StanChart’s Working-From-Home Setup May Linger After Crisis
(Bloomberg) -- Even when the coronavirus pandemic recedes, Standard Chartered Plc might suggest staff at its sprawling global operations keep staying at home.
“One thing is for sure -- after this crisis is over we may have to rethink our work-from-home practices,” Jose Vinals, the London-based bank’s chairman, said in an interview. “The experience so far has been rather good. It may be that going forward you don’t need to have 100% of the people in the office, 100% of the time.”
Depending on the country, the crisis played out differently for office life. In Britain, where the bank is based but has no branch network, more than 98% of staff are working from home, Vinals said. In China, where authorities have started loosening restrictions, that figure falls to 30%. All of its Chinese branches have reopened, including an outlet in Wuhan -- the outbreak’s epicenter -- that just opened a unit dedicated to small business.
Companies around the world have sent staff home as the pandemic prompted governments to halt the virus’s spread by enforcing lockdowns. In banking, working from home can be complicated by technological demands; on Wall Street, many staff have been sent home, but there have been tensions as some traders are urged to come to trading floors.
Vinals said that overall, about 70% of Standard Chartered’s 86,000-strong workforce was currently working from home. Its major hubs are Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. In Hong Kong, about 50% of staff are now working from home, Vinals said.
The bank’s Asian focus meant it had an earlier brush with Covid-19 than other British lenders. Its Hong Kong and Singapore staff were among the first to work from home. The bank has surveyed workers’ opinion of the shift, and says two-thirds reported a minor impact on their productivity or none at all from working at home, while 87% felt able to support the needs of customers when working remotely.
“I can tell you, we are all going to be a lot more productive as a result of the experiences we have had,” Vinals said. “If you had asked me three months ago what would happen if we had a shock like this, I don’t think I would have been as confident as I am now, having seen what I’ve seen.”
Those working from home have been told they cannot use the popular Zoom videoconferencing service. “We have some questions on the cyber-security features, and those questions have to be appropriately answered,” said Vinals.
Standard Chartered will report first-quarter financial results next week. In February, before the pandemic severely impacted Europe, the lender warned that revenue and profitability targets would miss expectations.
As the crisis worsened, the Bank of England told banks to cancel share buybacks and dividends. That led to uproar for StanChart’s main rival, HSBC Holdings Plc, where Hong Kong-based retail shareholders make up more than a third of the investor base and many were dependent on dividend income.
Vinals said the reaction to the dividend halt among Standard Chartered’s investors had been more muted.
“Our shareholder base is very much institutional,” he said. “We have a very small fraction of retail shareholding, and that retail shareholding base is not concentrated in Hong Kong.”
(A previous version of this story corrected the proportion of Chinese staff who worked from home.)
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.