The COVID Diaries: SSA 5

The following interview is with a European-based issuer from the sovereign, supranational and agency sector. It was conducted on 1 June 2020.

Does your business have a timeline for returning to office working?

I have been in the office most of the time and the treasury team, which has 15 people in it, has had six or seven people in the office. We are appropriately spaced out!

We also have a few other offices, which obviously provides us with more space and allows more people to have the option to work at the office rather than at home.

We have planned for this arrangement to continue over the summer and to return to normal at the beginning of August, which is in line with the recommendations of our home country.

How is the balance between public health and reopening the economy being discussed now?

There is a lot of debate about whether we are going to slowly or too fast. I think it is important that we don’t have too many bumps on the road in the way of outbreaks as we look to reopen the economy. Social distancing will be key to this process. People are beginning to return to work, schools recently reopened and eventually borders will reopen.

How is the discussion on borders progressing? In Australia, we could possibly have the bizarre scenario where we will be able to travel to New Zealand before we can travel to some domestic states and territories.

There are bilateral negotiations between European nations on possibly opening borders with one another. But there is debate about which nations should qualify for bilateral travel. As you can imagine, not all countries are on the same trajectory.

Some countries have not closed down at all. They have the strategy that everyone needs to get [the virus]. There have been some recommendations of what not to do, but the number of people with the virus and who have died are significantly higher than the countries that have had restrictions.

Some claim the end result of the strategies will be the same after two years – that the amount of those infected and dead will be the same.

“I think the impact on our sector will be limited. We need to be with our colleagues to chat and coordinate things and it is just a lot easier to do that when you are sitting together in an open space.”

Are you more or less optimistic about the crisis than you were during the early acceleration period?

It will be a long time before we are completely back to normal but we have seen the economy opening in some places and sectors and it has gone quite well. I am positive [governments] will deal with it in an appropriate way despite some of the pressure to really open things back up to get the economy moving again.

Do you subscribe to the view that this crisis will radically reshape our society? What do you think will change and what will areas that some might think will change will actually revert to previous norms?

I am not sure it will be radical but there will be some change. There will more use of online video conferencing tools, less travelling and more working from home.

But I think the impact on our sector will be limited. We need to be with our colleagues to chat and coordinate things and it is just a lot easier to do that when you are sitting together in an open space. There may be some days where you can work from home but I think it will, more generally, be an exception in our sector.

The thing that may change a little more in society that has not been mentioned a lot is how we are thinking about sustainability. People may realise they don’t need to buy things all the time. Yes, we have already seen this but the pandemic is furthering it.

Physical shops will be less and less attractive. One area we have seen this in a big way is supermarkets. People are choosing to do their grocery shopping online. Where there were reservations about the quality of the food if someone else was picking it out, people have been happy with what they are getting. They have released that online grocery shopping actually works.

When do you think you will next get on a plane?

September. And I think it will be in Europe.

What are you most looking forward to being able to do again, as restrictions ease in the coming weeks and months?

Getting the kids back to normal routines, such as playing sports. They have been suffering the most during this crisis as they haven’t been able to see their friends.

On a positive note, it so nice to see how happy kids now are going back to school.

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