The COVID Diaries: SSA 2

The following interview is with a funding executive at a European issuer in the supranational, sovereign and agency sector. It was conducted on 24 March 2020.

Are you working from home? If so, how challenging has the change been and, if not, how likely do you think it is that you will be WFH in the coming weeks?

Here, we have been ordered by the government to work from home for at least the next two weeks.

The work itself has been better than I thought. If you are the only one working from home while other people are in the office, you can feel left out. When everyone works from home, you all have the same interest in keeping everyone in the loop.

It has been quite busy because there’s a lot of communication by email, WhatsApp or phone calls – you can’t just wander around the office and have a quick chat with someone. As a result, the day goes by incredibly quickly. Skype is also much in use – although, thankfully, now we have an excuse not to use video facilities because it consumes too much bandwidth.

If you are in the office, you talk to everyone all day, so with everyone working from home, we have instituted a system of formal calls. I speak to my boss once a day and I have at least one call a day with my team, in addition to individual calls depending on what’s happening and who needs what. I find that having a laptop and a tablet and a phone is necessary for different ways of communicating on different platforms.

Our IT team has done a heroic job setting us all up to work from home. We are now seeing that more could have been done in the past for this. As I said before, though, I think it works best when everyone is either in or out of the office.

I’m grateful it has been so busy because otherwise being confined at home would be difficult. One personal challenge I have come across is exercise. We are in lockdown and although you can go out for exercise, it’s not so easy. Firstly, you can’t go more than one kilometre from your home. Secondly, when I went out walking last week I wasn’t dressed in sports clothes and I got stopped by a policeman who gave me an on-the-spot fine because he didn’t believe I was exercising. I just wanted to stretch my legs a bit after sitting in front of my laptop all day.

How close do you think the market will get to business as usual if we are in a period of social distancing for multiple months, including working from home and little or no face-to-face interaction?

It is likely to be a protracted situation because different countries are on different time points with regard to the coronavirus. China was the first to get to the flattening curve. In Europe, there have been two days in Italy when the numbers have been slightly better but that’s too short a time to say there will continue to be an improvement. The US and Latin America are still on the rising curve.

On getting back to normal, the question is how to define normality. This situation will change a lot of things. Governments will be spending so much more, central banks will again be flooding the system with liquidity. This will change all the numbers, the yields and almost everything. I don’t know what the normality of the future will look like.

This is worse than the global financial crisis or the European sovereign debt crisis. Back then, at least everyone could work normally. This is deeper, it goes to the heart of society.

The finance sector is lucky – we can continue to work as most of us can work from home. We have adapted to many different situations in the last decade and we will adapt to this one pretty quickly – we have partially done so already. However, this time the heat is on the real economy because, with everything but nonessential sectors and businesses closing down, banks will lose lots of clients and governments will lose a lot of tax income.

Finance is the first thing you need – it is like the oil in the wheel. But the wheels are not turning at all in some industries.

What other changes are you making in your personal and professional life?

Well, I’m definitely dressing down. I’m eating better because you need to prepare your lunch – you can’t order or go to a restaurant. I can’t see my friends, I can’t see my parents. Other than this, though, I haven’t had to change that much. When you work long days, you tend not to have a huge social programme through the week anyway.

"Finance is the first thing you need – it is like the oil in the wheel. But the wheels are not turning at all in some industries."

What are you most worried about in this period, personally or professionally – and how worried are you in general?

I’m most worried about the social cost of this situation – the jobs lost and what it does to people in the medium term. Governments might pay you a subsidy a year down the track but your expenses are here and now. Also, a lot of people are on their own and nobody can get to see them. This will be a problem at some stage.

My biggest wish is that everyone I know is well and able to take care of themselves and their loved ones. I hope to be able to see everyone soon, including those I know in Australia.

What is the latest article you have read in relation to COVID-19 and what did you like or not like about it? Can you provide a link?

I’m thinking people should start reducing how much they read, actually. There is so much information out there and some of it is contradictory, and it consumes a lot of time. I think I will start to do some ‘detoxing’ in the sense of not reading so much, while still watching the numbers.

In terms of what the world will look like when we come out of this, I agree with what I have read from Yuval Harari about leadership and co-operation. He has said the answer to all of this is not that we have to close down our borders and isolate. Some people think the cause of this Coronavirus problem has been globalisation. But the only way out of this is if countries work together to find solutions – vaccinations and medication – and try to produce enough equipment for everybody. The answer is not in closing down.

I am hoping that in Europe, where in the last few years we have seen a lot of political movements based on xenophobia and calls to close down borders, things might change.

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