In an unprecedented move for the industry, most asset managers moved operations to offsite locations in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. For some, this temporarily involved relocating employees to offsite emergency offices based off decades-old crisis planning to relocate from urban centers. Some New York-headquartered asset managers, for instance, moved their traders to the small office spaces they acquired after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, scarred from memories of the days-long shutdown of the New York Stock Exchange and their own downtown Manhattan offices’ proximity to Ground Zero. It was easy to envisage a scenario where one office or region might be affected by a critical event, but not the whole world.
Within a couple of weeks, as the scale of the virus became apparent, most asset managers ended up with 100% of employees working from home. The hardest to relocate to a work-from-home environment were the traders. Bloomberg Terminals were rigged up in makeshift home offices. Some needed landlines installed and faster Internet speeds. There was a period of adjustment, which undoubtedly contributed to the slowdown of the markets. But, surprisingly, by mid-April most asset managers had the transition to work-from-home under their belts.
Many business leaders have reflected on how this would not have been possible five years ago – let alone a decade ago during the Great Financial Crisis. It’s not just software and apps like Slack and Zoom; the leaps made in cloud technology and bandwidth speeds made working remotely almost seamless.
The transition was so successful that investment managers around the world are prepared to allow remote work for an extended period, as we are all still waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine. Despite concerns from the UK government about the lack of business and foot traffic in London and other urban centers around Europe, firms like Standard Life Aberdeen have said that most staff will not be returning to the office until early next year. In Canada, Sun Life has already declared that asset management and other professionals working out of its busy Toronto hub will not return to the office in 2020.