March 6, 2020 / 3:48 PM / 24 days ago

In London and NY, banks send staff home and to other locations as virus spreads

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 50 staff at Societe Generale’s (SOGN.PA) London office were working from home on Friday, while Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) is splitting its trading force and sending 100 New York-based staff to nearby Stamford, Connecticut, from Monday as a precaution against spread of the coronavirus, sources familiar with the matter said.

People walk in an office in the financial centre of Canary Wharf in London, Britain March 6, 2020. Traders at the world's biggest banks are swapping their plush city centre offices to work from suburban outposts in New York and London, facing lengthy commutes as their employers attempt to reduce the disruption caused by coronavirus. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

Morgan Stanley (MS.N) is shifting part of its London and New York-based sales and trading staff to its sites near Heathrow Airport and Westchester County, New York, respectively, as well as having some teams work from home starting on Monday, according to sources familiar with the plans.

The three banks join other financial companies sending staff home, splitting up trading teams and activating backup offices in a bid to contain the spread of the virus in the world’s largest financial and business hubs.

The number of people infected with the coronavirus across the world surpassed 100,000 on Friday. The outbreak has killed more than 3,400 people and spread across more than 90 nations, with six countries reporting their first cases on Friday.

Societe Generale declined to comment on how many of its London staff were working away from its office in Canary Wharf but said it has instituted travel restrictions, rotation of staff and work-from-home arrangements.

Commodity broker Marex Spectron said late on Thursday that one of its London employees had tested positive for coronavirus. It said the individual had attended a Marex Spectron-sponsored event during IP week, a major petroleum industry gathering, on Feb. 25 in London.

Citigroup (C.N) has sent 10% of traders who usually work in its Canary Wharf office in London to a backup site in Lewisham, a source familiar with the move said.

Allied Irish Banks (AIBG.I) has canceled a planned post-results road show to London as a result of a ban on non-essential travel and has conducted a deep clean of all branches, Chief Executive Colin Hunt said in a radio interview.

“Earlier this week we introduced a ban on all non-essential travel across the group, that’s one of the reasons why I’m talking to you this morning from Dublin and not London,” he said.

Jefferies Financial Group Inc (JEF.N) executives told clients on Friday it had put in place business continuity and technology plans to enable it to operate remotely.

“Those plans include both the technology to continue to trade and the technology that will permit us to continue to communicate seamlessly with each other, with you, with our regulators, and with our partners and affiliates,” the email said.

HSBC (HSBA.L) and Standard Chartered (STAN.L) have also convened committees of senior executives to give daily briefings on the crisis.

HSBC on Thursday sent home more than 100 staff in London after a worker tested positive for the virus, the first known case at a major company in Europe’s financial hub.

DON’T PANIC

The mood among financial firms was more practical than panicked.

“Had a few hedge funds that went into full shutdown on Monday because of coronavirus but then realized they were over-reacting and went back into the office later in the week,” said one hedge fund recruiter.

Staff in coffee shops in the Canary Wharf financial district said business was down, but they hoped for only a short-lived disruption to normal customer traffic.

“We expect it to be quieter for the next few days,” said a worker named Tahar in a Starbucks in Canary Wharf.

An employee in a branch of the Notes coffee chain in the financial area said business was down compared with the usually busy Friday rush.

“People just want to be safe I guess. We are hoping things pick up soon,” she said.

Reporting by Lawrence White and Iain Withers; additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia, Clara Denina and Maiya Keidan in London, Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Imani Moise, Elizabeth Dilts and Anna Irrera in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler

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