The COVID Diaries: nonbank financial-institution borrower 4

The following interview is with an Australian-based executive at a nonbank financial institution. It was conducted on 1 July 2020.

Australasia has fared extremely well on a relative basis in the public-health stage of the crisis, but we are now seeing diverging performance between New Zealand and Western Australia at one end of the spectrum and Victoria at the other. How optimistic are you about the prospects for further easing of restrictions from here, and do you think we might actually be entering the most challenging phase of the crisis from a policy perspective?

It seems very difficult continually to ease restrictions while there are still cases in society. We know it just takes one and if you allow one to come in contact with 10,000, at an event for example, you will be in big trouble. We have seen what happens when people self-determine their eased restrictions in Victoria – and it is not like this was to a massive degree, it was just people doing things that may have been contemplated as next steps.

I think this is a new norm and it will be hard to have big gatherings of people or to do some things that previously were normal. There may be some further easing that can be considered but we will be in this state of restricted lifestyle until it is all worked out.

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 am way more optimistic. In mid-March the reality was we thought we were on our way in Australia to a million people being infected. I have taken huge comfort from the fact we have stemmed and virtually eradicated it – apart from in Victoria. In New South Wales there is only a handful of cases outside of hotel quarantine.

I am much less bearish now. There are still a lot of risks and unknowns to play out and a lot of dependence on government support. These are looming and the reality is there is still a lot which we just do not know the answer to and a lot that seems to have variable answers. As long as this remains there will be an element of uncertainty. But, overall, I am much more positive.

From a business perspective we are pushing back into the market and confident that there are opportunities. There will clearly be more people affected economically by this, but I think the vast majority are identifiable now. I think we can be smart now about planning.

“Humans mean revert naturally and unless something prevents them from doing so that reversion will probably just happen over time.”

Where is your business on the spectrum of returning to office work, and what is the plan from here?

This is our third week back in the office with teams rotating to have two days a week coming in. Personally, I did five days in the office last week and will again this week. The commuting and lift situation has been straightforward for us so far because there are still not many people around. If everyone were to return it would be a nightmare.

Within the office, with our rotation there are still not many people here and there are a lot of hygiene measures in place. Everywhere you look there is sanitiser and people are temperature tested on the way in.

We have made the decision that it is okay for staff to return but some have elected to still work at home. That is fine – we are not forcing anyone to come in.

Do you subscribe to the view that this crisis will radically reshape our society or do you think people will revert to norms when they can?

I think both. There is no doubt this will change our society enormously but, using myself as an example, before this I had literally never worked a day at home. Then I had to spend three months working at home. Some nonbelievers have become believers and some nonbelievers have probably substantiated their nonbelief.

You can point to things like office space as areas where there will be a significant change through their being less demand. In saying this, humans mean revert naturally and unless something prevents them from doing so that reversion will probably just happen over time.

When do you think you will next get on a plane? Are you looking forward to or dreading travelling again?

I was never an excited traveller and was looking for ways to do it less anyway. I do not think I will be getting on a plane until the point where society has returned to relative normality – whatever that is.

Perhaps we will have the virus so well contained that people can operate in a ‘normalish’ fashion, or perhaps there is a vaccine, but both are very uncertain.

I have no real desire to be travelling for work again. It feels as though you can be more efficient without flying halfway across the world to have investor meetings. The time, effort, and wastage to do this is phenomenal and I think we have figured out we can achieve the same thing over video conference.

Do you think it could become socially unacceptable for bankers and others to constantly be flying around the world for work?

It is not impossible. But since when has what is socially acceptable determined what investment bankers do!

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

I am keen to be able to have a normal holiday. I do not take a huge number of holidays but the couple of weeks I was going to take disappeared. I have planned one for January so hopefully that comes off.

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