As a financial services professional, one of your key responsibilities is to find balance between your credits and debits at the end of the month, the quarter and the fiscal year. But what happens when debits or credits are missing, or when you cannot access vital records online?You could be facing a major problem.

You might assume that the IT guys will have backed up your data. But what if they didn't? What if your recent trades and transactions, a spreadsheet, some invoices, and dozens of customer-related e-mails were zapped by a power outage? What if the firm's backup system failed?

For independent small and midsized financial advisors and investment firms, data loss may contribute to business failure, as lost data often cannot be replaced. However, you can achieve business continuity if you and your staff follow several best practices that can reduce the probability of losing your data, your customers' data - and, ultimately, your customers.

* Regularly back up your data and test your backup;

* Keep backups in a separate, secure location;

* Keep your computer in a dry, controlled environment free from dust and smoke;

* Use anti-virus software and update it frequently to scan and screen all incoming data;

* Turn off your computer if it or the hard drive makes an unusual noise;

* If you work for a small organization or from a home office, play it safe - use power surge protectors; and,

* If your organization is large, ensure that your backup and redundant storage systems are maintained offsite in a controlled environment.

When you cannot access your data, don't delay in taking prompt, appropriate action. The wisest action is to turn off your computer and seek professional help. If you take recovery measures into your own hands, exercise great care, or your missing data could result in lost data - data that could be critical to the longevity of your business.

Don't forget to keep earlier editions of your software applications on file in case you need to access archived files.

SAFETY ON THE ROAD

And what if you are traveling abroad to attend a financial conference or to meet with your foreign counterparts? What do you do if you receive notice that you cannot take your laptop on an airline flight?

First and foremost: Back up the data on your laptop automatically. And whether you back up on a USB drive, CD or DVD, remember to test the backup before you leave for the airport.

Don't install any new software before you depart on a 10-day business trip. You don't want the software playing tricks with your computer's operating system or any applications or programs that you had installed already.

When you take your laptop on an international business trip, you will require a voltage converter to plug it into an electrical outlet. You'll need to acquire a plug adaptor. Call ahead and inquire with your hotel if it supplies one, or visit your local electronics shop. And if you plan on connecting to a corporate network to read your e-mails, check whether your phone cable is compatible with foreign telecom outlets and connections.

You should also pack an extra battery or two in case your installed battery is defective or malfunctions. Play it safe. Make sure your battery and spare are fully charged before you head out the door.

Also, invest in a sturdy laptop bag that provides good support and protection, not just for your laptop, but for your mission-critical data.

Susan Stuart is with CBL Data Recovery Technologies Inc., a Houston-based provider of data recovery software and services.

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