The COVID Diaries: New Zealand banker 2

The following interview is with a New Zealand debt market banker. It was conducted on 19 April 2020.

We are now into the second month of home working. Is cabin fever starting to set in? Do you think we can continue doing business in this fashion for three to six months?

Fortunately, cabin fever hasn’t really materialised at this juncture. The lockdown in New Zealand has been strict but it is comforting to know that everyone is in the same boat, so my FOMO is not as bad as I had first feared. However, if we head into a deep and dark winter and we are still working from home, I suspect cabin fever will come to the fore.

Conducting business like this for the next 3-6 months will have its challenges, and there will likely be material changes to our future working environments and operating rhythm.

What is pleasing is the speed and efficiency with which we have adapted to working from home. It is also important to note that those of us in financial services are fortunate, compared with other sector which currently have businesses closed and are not able to operate at all.

Do you feel you have adapted to working from home and how close are you to business as usual – personally and in the sense of market functionality?

It is not without its challenges but our whole team is doing business as usual. We have been conscious of providing a resilient and seamless service to our clients, albeit in a virtual working environment. Strong external and internal lines of communication is key, and we have been working hard to ensure the information flow remains robust.

On a personal level, I have great respect for teachers already and that has increased even more with the kids doing schoolwork from home.

“In time, hopefully New Zealand can look back and state we were not only kind but, as a nation, we were resilient, adaptable and ensured the economy remained fundamentally strong and fit for purpose.”

Has your view of the crisis and the nature of the challenges it presents changed? It seems Australia and New Zealand have prioritised public health over the economy, at least in the medium term. How are you thinking about that trade off?

The crisis has been fast-moving and dynamic – both domestically and globally – and we seem to be presented with new challenges on a daily basis. The strong response from central banks has been pleasing and I think that will continue to evolve as we head deeper into these unchartered waters.

I believe New Zealand has prioritised health over the economy – more so than in Australia. Our working restrictions have certainly been stricter than those in Australia. As we head further into the lockdown period, there will be more debate around the economic trade-off and what our ultimate goals are.

A key question for New Zealand is what are we actually trying to solve for and what is the social and economic impact of that goal? It is an easier decision to move into lockdown, compared with determining when to relax restrictions, especially when case numbers are diminishing.

Are you more or less optimistic about the crisis than you were during the early acceleration period of moving to home working and adding social distancing measures?

I have a foot in both camps. However, overall, I am optimistic because Kiwis have thus far been resilient, calm, kind and understanding during this crisis.

The New Zealand government has been a standout in respect of its COVID-19 response. To be fair to other jurisdictions, in times like these it is helpful that New Zealand is an island nation at the bottom of the world with a small population. Another positive is that the reserve bank and government response to the economic fallout has been wide-ranging and evolving.

However, it is difficult not to be concerned about the economic effects – particularly in respect of SMEs, which are the lifeblood of the Kiwi economy, and the potential unemployment numbers in the medium term. If these issues can’t be controlled, it may affect the overall social fabric of the country.

How do you think things will be different when we get back to normal? What changes can you see to work practices, social changes and the economy?

A lot will depend on the length and depth of the lockdown period, and whether we actually eliminate the virus. Going forward I think we will be more conscientious in social settings and there will be more acceptance of doing business virtually.

We will see businesses go under and some sectors will certainly struggle, but new opportunities and adaptable working environments will present themselves. Perhaps one of those opportunities will be more “boltholes” in New Zealand as has been suggested in a New Zealand Herald article.

In time, hopefully New Zealand can look back and state we were not only kind but, as a nation, we were resilient, adaptable and ensured the economy remained fundamentally strong and fit for purpose.

What is the latest article you have read on COVID-19 and what did you like about it? Can you provide a link?

We are inundated with information but a good snapshot of the current global numbers is the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map. Unfortunately, the US numbers are staggering.

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