The COVID Diaries: Service provider 3

The following interview is with an Australian-based service provider to the debt capital markets. It was conducted on 1 May 2020.

Does your business have a timeline for returning to office working – and are you looking forward to it?

We don’t have a timeline yet. The company will be following the federal government and various state governments’ advice. Although I’m based in Sydney, the company is headquartered in Melbourne so the Sydney office may return to work earlier than head office.

But yes, I am looking forward to getting back to the office although I will miss a slight sleep-in. I have an extra two hours in my day now because I am not getting on a train or ferry – but I am spending more time on the phone. I am losing half an hour to an hour a day because it is slightly slower working from home and the volume of emails has gone up as people are working remotely – in fact we’ve been encouraged to call or text rather than send another email that has to be opened, read and filed.

How has the working environment been for you?

In the first couple of weeks I talked to my opposite number at each of my competitors. We had a cordial, upbeat, positive chat. One of the advantages of this industry, whether you are a lawyer, banker, underwriter or whatever, is that we are all professionals and behave as such. While we compete quite aggressively, we do so in a respectful way. There is a sense of shared ownership of the crisis we are in. Life will go on, work keeps coming in.

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?

We have been really lucky in this country. The Australian government has done a good job. When we look back, the restrictions on arrivals from China in February will be seen to have been a wise move despite the criticism at the time. Obviously, the failure to manage the Ruby Princess disembarkation will be examined.

Given we are not in the same situation as the US and Europe, some serious thought should be given to mapping the road out. My residual fear is that we are going into winter and respiratory diseases thrive then. We need to balance that with the fact we are doing so well.

“The only thing you can really do at the moment is manage your existing network. You really need to have conversations with people to gain, or offer, any useful insight.”

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?

More optimistic. We went into lockdown earlier than most countries, we are testing more and we closed the borders earlier than the UK and the US. I think that has given us an edge on managing infection rates.

At the beginning of this crisis, I assumed it would follow the same path as Italy or the UK, but it appears – by moving earlier and harder – that we have avoided this outcome, with the caveat that we are heading into winter.

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 don’t think we will be shaking hands anytime soon but I hope the market will get back to normal fairly quickly. I hope any economic downturn doesn’t threaten the viability of large corporate gatherings such as conferences and roadshows as I’m confident the industry will be keen to gather and reconnect as soon as possible.

In terms of business development, the only thing you can really do at the moment is manage your existing network. Like me, everyone I know is getting on the phone because it is the only way you can do something meaningful other than sending emails. You really need to have conversations with people to gain, or offer, any useful insight.

The myth that people working from home are not working has been exploded, which is a good thing. That may allow those who need to work more flexibly to do so. It may mean that workplaces become more flexible and this benefits everyone.

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

I find the works of Alexander McCall Smith very soothing. He is an Edinburgh-based medical law and bioethics expert who has published more than 50 novels – more than enough to get you through a protracted lockdown. They are very well written and have nothing to do with coronavirus or finance! They are a perfect antidote to a stressful situation and you will find your own favourite characters in the various series.

KangaNews is your source for the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Australasian debt capital markets. For complete coverage, click here.