The COVID Diaries: service provider 2

The following interview is with an Australian-based service provider to the fixed-income market. It was conducted on 30 April 2020.

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?

I look at this two ways. The physical aspect of working from home – I love it. There’s no commute, I can run my own agenda and slot into conference calls as and when needed. You have to be disciplined about switching off from work and into family time. But overall I like working from home.

On the other side of the coin, I miss client interaction. You always get so much more out of a meeting when you sit down with a client, whether it be at their office, over a coffee or whatever the case may be. It’s the best way to address not only what’s topical at the time but also to pick up other bits and pieces along the way.

I try to look at the positive side. We are all in the same boat – but one thing I don’t miss is regular trips to the airport!

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?

I think behaviour will change, certainly for a period – though it’s hard to define what that period will be. Certainly I think there will be less travel for quite some time, even when borders open. Let’s assume they reopen long-haul travel at some point in 2021 – who will want to be first back on a plane to New York or London?

I think some people, particularly the older generation, will be scarred by this for quite some time. No-one knows, but it could be 3-5 years before we’re back to anything like normality.

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

In late February and early March it certainly seemed like everyone felt the world was going to hell in a handbasket. The market corrected by thousands of points, and it didn’t seem that state or federal leaders really knew what was going on or had a plan of attack.

I think we got hold of the situation pretty quickly, and that our leaders here have done a bloody good job compared with the rest of the world. We have probably had some luck as well, when it comes to dodging the worst of the fatalities other countries have experienced.

My thoughts have changed quite quickly from where we were a month ago to now. We couldn’t even talk about the light at the end of the tunnel, whereas today we can see it. There is control of the virus, it is being incredibly well managed and we have great leadership from the front.

It’s very hard to say what the bounce looks like from an economic perspective – whether it will be sharp or steady. Businesses are going to be affected for quite some time. But there is certainly a little more optimism today than there was even a week ago, let alone a month ago.

“I think we got hold of the situation pretty quickly, and that our leaders here have done a bloody good job compared with the rest of the world. We have probably had some luck as well.”

The conversation has always been about a trade-off between health and economic outcomes. Are you starting to feel that the health aspect is sufficiently under control that we could start leaning a little the other way in the sense of prioritising economic recovery?

I think government made the right call at the start by deciding that it had to protect the lives of the population even if it meant closing everything down. Where we are now is about 7,000 cases in Australia of which around 6,000 have recovered – having a thousand active cases is more than anyone wants but it’s pretty miniscule compared with the rest of the world.

It certainly seems that the broader part of the population is very unlikely to get the virus by going to the shop, walking down the street or going into the city. So yes, I think government now really needs to start thinking about what it should do from an economic standpoint.

It seems that Australians are starting to feel that – barring a second wave – they are not going to get sick. The fear factor of being outside is passing, in other words.

I agree. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live in the UK or in New York City for the past couple of months. We are very, very lucky here.

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 certainly feel a whole lot better on the health side – as you said, we’re not going to get this by going outside and touching something, in all likelihood. I think we’ve broken the back of it in that sense. I never felt personally afraid, in the sense that I was pretty strict about my behaviour. But the community fear factor was certainly there.

I’m feeling a bit better on the economic side, too. But we still don’t know how deep this is going to go from a GDP or recessionary standpoint. When do we come out if it? I can’t see a huge improvement in our underlying fundamentals until well into next year, perhaps even 2022. We could have 3-6 quarters of very serious impact.

I’m less concerned about the diplomatic side. I don’t think China will have an extended period of refusing to buy Australian goods or anything like that.

We have been asking people what they have been reading relating to the crisis but we think everyone has seen enough by this stage. What are your entertainment recommendations for lockdown?

I haven’t really changed my patterns. I am probably reading the daily newspaper a bit more, but not so much about coronavirus. I’m catching up on a few box set series on Stan, like Billions. I watched Chernobyl the other night and that was brilliant. I’m also getting into a money-laundering series called Ozark. Probably a few more of these series than usual, but not a fundamental change for me.

What I am doing is a whole lot more walking. It’s not that I didn’t exercise before, but I’m using walking as a way of getting out for an hour or two. I also get out once or twice a week to play golf, though it’s hard to get tee times at the moment because everyone’s doing the same thing.

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