It would have been a brave person to predict a month ago that the FTSE 100 would be hovering around the 5,000 mark, UK interest rates would be at 0.1%, most international travel had been grounded and that schools, shops, restaurants and pubs would all be closed. I could go on…
Whilst history can offer no comparable peacetime scenario, one thing we have learned over many years is that when we are faced with a crisis, the most important thing is to stay close to and engaged with clients and intermediaries.
It is with that spirit in mind that I am writing this today.
I’m sure you’ve been inundated with corporate updates telling you of the steps being taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. I won’t burden you with fine details, but I will say that since 5th March our Chief Operating Officer has been chairing daily ‘Cobra’ style meetings which have been framed around eight specific workstreams:
- Protect our employees’ welfare and jobs;
- Maintain our critical services to clients;
- Set up a cross functional COVID-19 response team (the Cobra team) to manage a plan;
- Ensure and protect liquidity in the business to weather the storm;
- Stabilise our supply chain;
- Communicate regularly with our staff and our clients;
- Practice the plan; and
- Demonstrate purpose in the community.
To date, the Cobra Plan has worked very well. From the outset we identified those colleagues that were more susceptible to infection or vulnerable in other ways and gave them the opportunity to work from home, setting them up with the same equipment as they have in the office. We also identified which colleagues live alone and have provided enhanced support to them.
The proactive steps we put in place resulted in all staff that had been travelling overseas being required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return, many days before this was brought in as a requirement by the government.
As a result of this, one of our staff members, who did contract the virus whilst on holiday in Spain, was isolated and remains living and working in his adapted garage apartment in isolation, preventing any wider contamination in the office and in the community.
Today, we have over 70% of our people working from home which has allowed significant social distancing for the remainder who are working from our four offices in Douglas and Castletown in the Isle of Man, and in Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa. For those still working in the offices, we have plans in place to mobilise full home working within 24 hours’ notice should the situation evolve further, as it has done in the UK and in South Africa overnight.
Our virtualised infrastructure has really come into its own, enabling staff to genuinely work from home in the same way they would from their desks in the office. All colleagues are equipped with the appropriate IT equipment and the use of Microsoft Teams has been widespread in the business for about 3 years, so familiarity with its video conferencing capabilities is high.
The areas of our business that are absolutely critical in order to maintain uninterrupted client services include:
- Our Dealing team;
- Our Investment Management team;
- Our Payments team; and
- Our Customer Service and Onboarding teams.
At present these teams are fully staffed by colleagues in Capital House in Douglas and at Great Westerford in Cape Town but can be mobilised to work from home at short notice as the need arises. We continue to meet our standard service levels and whilst we will endeavour to maintain this position, please be aware that as the ‘lockdown’ situation tightens, it may not be possible in every case.
Our Asset Services and Reconciliations teams are mostly working from home with calls being routed to colleagues’ work phones which have been installed at their homes. By the end of this week, the same will apply to our Client Onboarding team and our Customer Services team. At present, service standards are being maintained.
These are turbulent and unprecedented times. We will continue to communicate with you when we have material updates. You are welcome of course to get in touch with us at any time via your normal route.
I am very grateful for your ongoing support of Capital International Group and I wish you, your business and your family well in managing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disclaimer: The views thoughts and opinions expressed within this article are those of the author, and not those of any company within the Capital International Group (CIG) and as such are neither given nor endorsed by CIG. Information in this article does not constitute investment advice or an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of any company within the Capital International Group of companies to buy or sell any product or security.