The COVID Diaries: bank issuer 3

The following interview is with an Australian-based bank treasury executive. It was conducted on 5 June 2020.

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

We have started a phased return to the office. Some are continuing to work from home full time and others are rotating through the office in two-week shifts. I am certainly looking forward to everyone being back in the office, but I think we need to recognise that we will not be returning to the same work situation we had at the start of the year. There will be longer-term changes to working arrangements.

With the rotations into the office, do you have the whole treasury team in at once and then the whole team away at once, or is the team itself split?

Each team is split. We take the same approach within teams that the whole bank is taking, so we have half working from home and the other half coming into the office in shifts.

It is commonly accepted at this stage that Australia and New Zealand have done relatively well in the phase of the crisis where public health was the number one priority. Is it now time – at the margin at least – to change the emphasis towards reopening the economy?

Yes. I think is has been a very disciplined approach and there has been great success in achieving the health outcome. Now is the time to take steps to unwind the restrictions.

I am in favour of taking one step at a time, then a couple of weeks to ensure there is no spike in infections and then looking at lifting further restrictions. This is important as it will make sure we do not experience a large second wave which would put a lot of strain on the health system. Ultimately, though, we need to keep lifting restrictions.

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?

At our bank we have managed the situation very well, probably better than expected. I think everyone we have been dealing with has had a similar experience. A lot of resources have been put into getting the bank ready to work from home. It is a good lesson, that when resources are focused on achieving something it can be done very quickly and effectively.

“If people can work from home most days, if not every day, it could support more people moving out of the inner suburbs. There will be a group of people for whom this is an opportunity to make a significant change.”

There seems to be a lot of optimism in equity and debt markets at the moment with the accelerated reopening of the economy. Are you optimistic on the economic front or still cautious?

I am still cautious because the government has put a lot of temporary fiscal stimulus in place to help with the crisis. The JobKeeper programme is expected to finish later this year. That is giving a lot of support at the moment so there is a big question mark over what happens when it is withdrawn and businesses need to create their own revenue to keep people employed.

There is a risk to unemployment and it will take some time after JobKeeper is rolled back to get a good handle on how it will play out.

Do you subscribe to the view that this crisis will radically reshape our society or do you think things will revert to previous norms?

I think it will largely return to previous norms. Some restrictions will remain, such as social distancing in the workplace, and this will be supported by a lot of people working from home rather than the expectation that everyone is in the office.

I think it is human nature, though, that when we experience very low infection rates people will be more comfortable in crowded spaces. Hopefully at the same time a vaccine or treatment is developed.

Crises often present the opportunity for big changes. Is there any particular change you would like to see coming out of this?

I think a greater acceptance of people working remotely and more infrastructure to allow it. We should be ensuring people have the right IT, the right internet connection, and the right hardware and software in place so they can do this.

This would also require a change in workplace attitude, for people to be more inclusive of those that are working remotely. This will be important if 20-30 per cent of the team is not in the office on any day.

If people can work from home most days, if not every day, it could support more people moving out of the inner suburbs. There will be a group of people for whom this is an opportunity to make a significant change.

When do you think you will next get on a plane? Are you looking forward to or dreading travelling again – for business and leisure?

For me there is more interest in getting on a plane for personal purposes, since the whole family has been living on top of each other for three months. I think this could happen domestically by the end of the year and I would be comfortable doing that. Internationally, it could be well into next year before people are comfortable flying again.

I think it could be at least 12 months before we see any significant travel to Europe and North America.

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

I am looking forward to catching up with friends and family face-to-face and in larger groups. I am also keen to watch some sport.

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