The COVID Diaries: syndicate 3

The following interview is with a Singapore-based fixed-income syndicate executive. It was conducted on 21 April 2020.

Singapore has been an example of best practise in dealing with COVID-19 but is now experiencing a second wave of the virus with more infections than the first. How has the lockdown status evolved over the last month and how has this affected your working and living arrangements?

I have been working at home now for about five weeks and have worked from home for seven of the last nine weeks. A couple of weeks ago, the Singapore regulator insisted that as many people as can work from home should do so.

The enforcement has become much tighter. Now, most organisations in the financial district are down to 10-20 per cent of employees in the office. They need to be critical employees and this is monitored by MAS [Monetary Authority of Singapore] on a daily basis.

We are not allowed to leave our houses or condominiums unless we are wearing a face mask. The schools closed about two weeks ago so now everyone with kids is dealing with home-based learning as well, similar to Australia. Having the kids at home is fine although my son is going a bit stir crazy.

Working on a syndicate desk in Singapore, a lot of your work with clients around the globe presumably was done virtually even before this crisis. Has this made the transition easier?

It has been fairly smooth. Working in syndicate I am very used to using the mobile and I have a dedicated laptop. I think it is harder for people in fixed-income sales and trading, because they traditionally have not used remote working as a primary source of dialogue with clients.

“To be honest, I am trying to read anything apart from COVID-19 coverage. I am mostly looking into what I want to do once restrictions have eased and this is all over.”

Has your view of the crisis and the nature of the challenges it presents changed and how are you viewing the trade-off between health and economic outcomes?

I think the trade-off is short term. Down the line, the health outcomes will feed into the economy so it is the right thing to focus on at the moment.

I recently read an article in New Scientist exploring the push from various pro-gun activists in the US for processes to be put in place to allow a relaxing of the lockdown measures in some states. It seems pretty soon for this. I think we should take a simple route through this and keep people locked down for a while before opening up gradually.

At the moment in Singapore, most of the cases have come from dormitories rather than through spread in the general public. I think people here are generally supportive of the health measures being put in place and for them to take precedence over the economy. Eventually the economy will open up.

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?

The headline numbers for Singapore have become very bad but, if you look at the community transition of the virus, the numbers are very low. I look less at Singapore and more at global numbers to derive a sense of forward-looking optimism. Singapore is a bit of a special case in coronavirus spread.

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?

When this first started spreading, people would be standing on top of one another in supermarket queues and elsewhere. They were not intentionally doing so, it was just what everyone was used to doing. I think, going forward, people will feel less comfortable being so close to one another; certainly in the short term. There will be a lot more subconscious social distancing in the streets and in supermarkets.

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

I saw in a previous Q&A someone mentioned The Hammer and the Dance article, which I had also read and found very good. However, to be honest, I am trying to read anything apart from COVID-19 coverage.

I am mostly looking into what I want to do once restrictions have eased and this is all over. We are being bombarded with headlines about COVID-19, so it is good also to get a sense of what people are reading to escape from COVID-19.

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