Since March, leaders in the asset management industry have been forced to adapt to the new reality brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, in the face of continued uncertainty, firms are doing all they can to develop policies and processes that will ensure a safe return to the workplace.
Business continuity leaders shared how they’re establishing transition teams, complying with evolving health protocols, and developing communications plans during a recent Webinar Wednesday. (NICSA members can replay an archived version of the webinar here).
Elizabeth Arnall, Managing Director, Head of Sales and Client Management for the Americas, HSBC, moderated the session, which also featured experts from Allianz Global Investors, Morningstar, and Northern Trust Company.
Chris Boruff, Head of Operations, Talent & Culture at Morningstar, kicked things off with his firm’s multi-phase plan for sending employees back to work.
“We’ve established several phases, the first of which is essentially unlocking the doors to offices that have been closed due to shelter-in-place orders,” said Boruff, who serves as Morningstar’s COVID Response Business Continuity Leader. “It will be completely optional whether to return or not.”
Boruff said he expects about 10 percent of employees to return for various reasons, such as difficulty concentrating at home. The team will then progress to a phase where the staff is split into groups that work in the office on alternate weeks to ensure social distancing. Even then, the decision whether to return to the office will be optional.
“We expect it to be optional for quite some time,” he said.
Gem Pushpaharan, Managing Director, COO US, Allianz Global Investors, said his firm has 650 employees across San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, and New York. He also detailed a phase-based plan guided by local office-closure mandates.
“Once a particular city has the green light to open up offices — which is typically in phase two or three of our plan — we add two weeks on to that date, then we allow to 20 percent of employees back in voluntarily,” said Pushpaharan, who is chair of the firm’s COVID-19 Crisis Task Force. “We’ve also tried to focus on bringing in more business-critical roles, particularly around portfolio management and trading.”
Pushpaharan said his firm is also implementing stringent health and safety protocols, including six feet of social distancing, mandatory masks for moving about the office, and regular handwashing and sanitization requirements. The company is also implementing deep office cleaning schedules and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) in all locations.
Dan Houlihan, Executive Vice President, Head of North America Asset Servicing at Northern Trust Company, serves as site lead for returning to work in the company’s Chicago operation. Worldwide, the organization employs 21,000 people in 20 different countries and is taking a risk-averse approach based on employee surveys and local mandates.
“From the beginning of the crisis, Northern Trust has left, and continues to leave, a lot of the decision-making to local business leaders in their jurisdictions, realizing we are the ones who have situational awareness regarding regulators and dynamics in a particular location,” Houlihan said.
Like the other panelists, Houlihan said his firm is reopening in phases when it is safe to do so. In Chicago, the organization will be handing out washable masks, hand sanitizer, and best practice guides, and installing walkthrough body-temperature detectors. With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. rising, Houlihan said “realistically, I don’t see any sizeable contingent back in the workforce until the new year in the U.S.”
Pushpaharan said Allianz Global Investors has to make strategic decisions regarding client meetings when manufacturing product in the U.S. that is distributed in Asia.
“We are in the very early stages, but it depends on the stability of the environment where the potential client is based,” he said. “In Asia, Germany, and France, we’re seeing things start to move again in terms of in-person meetings — but only a very limited basis for business-critical purposes. In the U.S., our sales and distribution teams have been connecting with existing and potential clients virtually.”
Note: Although the observations contained in this work represent the best thoughts of the individuals comprising the Nicsa panel, they do not necessarily reflect the views of Nicsa or any of its member organizations. Matters addressed in this work may touch upon legal or regulatory matters, however nothing herein is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. You should contact your own counsel in order to obtain legal advice regarding these or any other matters.