No easy answer to who is “essential” staff

Fund management company executives are determining on a case-by-case basis which essential staff members are being asked to venture into offices while most are working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Financial services companies have been deemed “essential” businesses in states including New York and California, exempting some workers from stay-at-home orders. However, a large majority of the asset management workforce has been able to continue working from home, unlike frontline workers such as healthcare professionals, first responders and grocery store clerks.

Despite this, some employees are still coming to the office amid the pandemic; they typically fall into one of three roles – merchants, IT professionals or facilities management personnel, said Josh Hall, global head of operational due diligence at Willis Towers Watson PLC, New York.

Mr. Hall has seen instances in which traders were asked to come into the office and others in which traders asked to come in themselves, preferring their setup in the office. Most traders are used to working with multiple monitors, for example, so they can watch the news and follow the markets simultaneously, he said.

Over the course of two weeks, he spoke to about 170 fund managers, and “all of them figure out for themselves” what’s critical, Hall said in an April 8 interview.

Decisions have also depended on where businesses are located, he added. “If (fund managers) have offices in places that haven’t been ravaged by the pandemic yet, they tend to keep going to offices.” Places like New York or other pandemic hotspots won’t see many people in the office.

Overall, those who continue to come in “must be essential so that everyone can continue to work from home”, Mr Hall said.

Amid the shift to remote working, Willis Towers Watson has seen fund managers make some adjustments, such as increasing the bandwidth of their technology infrastructure.

“Mega-corporations have never tested having 20,000 remote employees at the same time,” Hall said, adding that so far companies have been able to keep up with IT demands.

“We haven’t seen any explosions or massive failures in disaster recovery,” he said.

On March 29, black rock Inc., CEO, Laurence D. Fink, in a letter to shareholders, said: “In recent weeks, more than 90% of our employees worldwide have been working from home – managing portfolios, serving clients and building technologies. . is no small task.”

Fink also said asset managers will need to “fully integrate technology to connect with clients, generate investment insights, create operational efficiencies and unify their organization on a single platform. … Volatility markets and how quickly they have moved them in recent weeks, once again reinforces how critical technology is to managing risk today.”

In response to the spread of the coronavirus, BlackRock transitioned on March 16 to a modified operating model across its Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa offices, dividing employees into two shifts with rotating access at the offices, a spokeswoman said. E-mail. Although each team has access to the office, they are still encouraged to work from home, the spokesperson added.

Michelle J. Kelley