The COVID Diaries: syndicate 1

The following interview is with an Australian-based head of bond syndicate. It was conducted on 25 March 2020.

Are you working from home? If so, how challenging has the change been?

Yes, I am working from home and it has been challenging. Nothing is quite as efficient as it is in the office. What would typically be a five-minute meeting at someone’s desk is now a half-hour conference call. It just takes longer to get things done. Some people now have their kids home from school as well and that obviously has its own challenges.

There is good and bad though. A lot of work is usually ‘barbelled’ at either end of the day – with a busy morning and then a busy evening when Europe opens. Working from home gives the ability to be more efficient in the evenings, as opposed to working a full day then coming home.

The situation is unfolding and we are very lucky that the IT infrastructure at a lot of banks is very good and generally internet in people’s homes is also very good. It is workable but not without its challenges.

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?

I think it will take a couple of weeks and then we will all become very efficient. Speaking with people in Europe, where they are a couple of weeks ahead of us, they seem to be making it work. For public transactions, we hear some of the bookbuilds are a bit slower, which is a factor of people being in different locations. But we are potentially coming into a busy period for markets and I think people will make it work because this will be the new norm – at least for a little while.

“Nothing is quite as efficient as it is in the office. What would typically be a five-minute meeting at someone’s desk is now a half-hour conference call. It just takes longer to get things done.”

How are you managing client relationships at the moment?

There are countless phone calls because obviously we can’t go out and see anyone. We are becoming more disciplined in sharing information across teams so we know who exactly is talking to specific clients and can make sure we are covering everyone appropriately.

How worried are you in general on the health and economic fronts?

It is worrying from a health point of view, but I have confidence that the measures being implemented will help. Everyone is beginning to be disciplined with social distancing and I think we will come out the other side. My main concern is that this will be a longer process than people are mentally prepared for.

On the economic side, I think it will be quite grim in the short term; the unemployment numbers are likely to become horrific. I have confidence, though, that it will be a short-term blip. A lot of SMEs that need to lay off people will hopefully be able to rehire them once things get back to normal and, given the former employees are a known quantity, the rehiring process is potentially swifter than otherwise would be the case.

It will be real and tough for people at the frontline but hopefully there will be only a small period of bad data coming back.

I have been impressed by the Reserve Bank of Australia’s actions and the amount the federal government will spend. They are also targeting the right people. This will most likely be nuanced as things evolve but its pleasing to see a commitment to deploying stimulus where they can.

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