Industry veterans say the benefits of virtual client service and due diligence, together with the better work-life balance offered by flexible remote-working arrangements, have been so pronounced that few expect life to return to pre-COVID norms even after vaccination programs now underway succeed in offering protection globally.
Asia — and in particular China, where some companies have already brought employees back to their offices, and where meetings and even some conferences have resumed — will offer the first clues as to what a post-pandemic world could look like, said Aaron Costello, Beijing-based regional head for Asia with investment consultant Cambridge Associates LLC.
"Clearly the ability to have videoconferences and some level of remote working is here to stay," Mr. Costello said. The only question is "how much," he said.
For Tim Campbell, CIO and co-founder of Singapore-based hedge fund Longlead Capital Partners, the answer — when it comes to due diligence-related travel — is that only 20% to 30% of pre-COVID levels are likely to resume after herd immunity is achieved.
"Travel globally is 100% being rethought," Mr. Campbell said. "In the past, salespeople had to hop on a plane to close a deal. Guess what? You can close on Zoom … you can do 90% of the legwork on Zoom and then maybe it's only one face to face whereas before it might have been four," he said.
Meanwhile, although a number of industry veterans say the inability to conduct operational due diligence on new managers will leave asset owners focusing allocations on managers they already work with or know well, some insist that institutional investors are growing more comfortable with virtual due diligence.
"We're already seeing" asset owners willing to consider strategies run by portfolio managers they've never met before, noted Matt Gaden, Sydney-based head of Australia for Janus Henderson Investors. "We're on the cusp of two global searches with large pension schemes where … the process and the decision will have been 100% made virtually," he said.
He declined to identify the pension funds.
Still, many observers concede there's room to bolster the industry's fledgling reliance on technology to better connect the world going forward.