Executives at money management firms are determining on a case-by-case basis the essential staff members who are being requested to venture into offices while most work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Financial services firms have been deemed "essential" businesses in states like New York and California, making some workers exempt from stay-at-home orders. A large majority of the asset management workforce, however, has been able to continue their work from home, unlike front-line workers such as health-care professionals, first responders and grocery store clerks.
Despite this, some employees still are going into the office amid the pandemic; they typically fall in one of three roles — traders, IT professionals or facilities management staff, said Josh Hall, global head of operational due diligence at Willis Towers Watson PLC, New York.
Mr. Hall has seen instances in which traders have been asked to come into the office and others in which traders requested to come in themselves, preferring their in-office setup. Most traders are used to working with several monitors, for instance, so they can watch the news and track markets simultaneously, he said.
Over the course of two weeks, he has talked to about 170 money managers, and "all of them are determining themselves" who is essential, Mr. Hall said in an April 8 interview.
Decisions have also depended on the location of firms, he added. "If (money managers) have offices in locations that haven't been ravaged by the pandemic yet, they tend to still be going into offices." Places like New York or other pandemic hot spots aren't going to be seeing a lot of people in the office.
Overall, those still going in "must be critical for everyone else to be able to continue to work from home," Mr. Hall said.
Amid the shift to remote work, Willis Towers Watson has seen money managers making some adjustments such as increasing the bandwidth of their technology infrastructure.
"The megafirms have never tested having 20,000 employees remote at the same time," Mr. Hall said, adding that so far, firms have been able to address IT demands.
"We've seen no massive blowups or failures in disaster recovery," he said.
On March 29, BlackRock Inc. CEO Laurence D. Fink, in a letter to shareholders, said: "On many days in recent weeks, we have had over 90% of our people around the world working from home — managing portfolios, serving clients and building technology. This is no small task."
Mr. Fink also said asset managers will have to "fully integrate technology to connect with clients, generate investment insights, create operational efficiencies and unify their organization on a single platform. … Volatility of the markets, and the speed with which they have moved these past few weeks, reinforces once again how essential technology is to managing risk today."
In response to the spread of the coronavirus, BlackRock on March 16 moved to a modified operations model across its offices in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, splitting employees into two teams with rotating access to office locations, a spokeswoman said an email. While each team has access to the office, they are still encouraged to work from home, the spokeswoman added.