Financial firms empty out as coronavirus cases mount
The Swiss stock exchange operator today joined a growing number of financial institutions segregating employees as the industry braces for disruption from the rapidly spreading coronavirus. UBS and Credit Suisse took similar action. Starting Monday, all SIX teams operating critical platforms, applications and services will be split into at least two locations, a person with knowledge of the matter said. For example, half will continue to come to the office while the other 50 percent will work either from home, in a different building, or even a different city. The split teams have been told not to meet under any circumstances, including privately, the person said. That includes not visiting company-linked fitness centers or other shared facilities abroad. Banks in Europe and on Wall Street are activating crisis plans as the virus spreads to more financial centers. For many lenders, it’s their first widescale experience with working from home and serves as an important test of the future of remote work. UBS, Credit Suisse also splitting up teams Julian Chan, a spokesman for the operator, confirmed that SIX has put in place emergency procedures requiring at least some staff in all critical departments to work from home. He declined to say how many employees are affected by the new arrangements. SIX, the backbone of the Swiss financial center, employs some 2,600 people across 20 countries. Most are in the four Swiss cities of Zurich, Olten, Biel and Geneva. The operator is owned by about 125 domestic and foreign banks. Among them, UBS and Credit Suisse also said they are separating teams in different locations. UBS is introducing the system, which is already in place in Asia, in Switzerland and the U.K. “We are prepared to implement split operations in other locations across the globe if appropriate,” said spokesman Igor Moser. Generali’s Swiss subsidiary today ordered employees to work from home until at least March 31. The insurer also barred meetings and other events with more than 10 people. The European Central Bank, meanwhile, has asked eurozone lenders to review their plans and the actions they can take to stem the spread of the virus. Switzerland’s financial supervisor FINMA said it is in contact with banks “as is customary in such situations” and described the system as “well prepared.” Although most coronavirus cases have been recorded in China, the virus is spreading worldwide with some 80 countries reporting confirmed cases of the flu-like illness that can lead to pneumonia. Switzerland, which has more than 200 confirmed cases, reported its first death on Thursday, a 74-year-old woman in the canton of Vaud in western Switzerland.
SNB in a tight spot after Fed’s coronavirus cut
The Swiss National Bank will probably participate in any concerted action by central banks to shore up the global economy in response to the coronavirus epidemic, the former deputy governor of Ireland’s central bank said Tuesday. “My suspicion is, if there is coordinated action, the SNB will play along even though they may prefer not to do anything right now,” Stefan Gerlach, chief economist of EFG Bank, told CNNMoney Switzerland. “It is really key for such an open economy as the Swiss economy to be fully engaged in international monetary policy developments,” he said. The U.S. Federal Reserve cut rates by half a percentage point Tuesday, saying the coronavirus “poses evolving risks to economic activity.” Markets expect other central banks to follow suit. On Monday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that the virus would take a heavy toll on global growth if it spreads widely outside of China. Earlier on Tuesday, finance ministers and central bankers from the G-7 countries said they were ready to use “all appropriate policy tools”—including possible fiscal stimulus measures—to cushion the impact. The coronavirus comes at a tough time for the SNB. In January, the U.S. put Switzerland on its list of countries suspected of manipulating exchange rates to gain a trade advantage. The franc strengthened to multiyear highs as traders bet that the move would make it harder for the SNB to intervene in markets. Then last week, the currency climbed to its highest since July 2015 as investors dumped stocks and sought shelter in haven assets. It was trading around 1.07 to the euro late Tuesday. The SNB has already gone to extraordinary lengths to discourage investors from buying the franc, which undermines Swiss exporters. Switzerland has the world’s lowest rates at minus 0.75 percent, introduced after it abandoned its cap in 2015. Whether the SNB goes deeper into negative territory may depend on the European Central Bank. Gerlach, who served as deputy governor of the Central Bank of Ireland between 2011 and 2015, said that while the Fed move puts pressure on the ECB to also act, it is unlikely to do so quickly. ECB President Christine Lagarde needs to persuade the Governing Council that joint action is necessary now, he said. “I suspect that there are several members of the Governing Council who don’t think that this is something that needs to get done right now,” he said.
Ditching gold in times of trouble
We won’t know for a couple more months just what the coronavirus means for our economy. But for now Thomas Wille, head of research and strategy at private bank LGT, isn’t waiting to find out. “We just took some chips off the table, not in equities, but in gold,” he says.
Hamers faces a tough to-do list at UBS
ING’s Ralph Hamers has his work cut out for him when he takes over from Sergio Ermotti as CEO of UBS later this year, according to financial journalist Haig Simonian and Adriano Lucatelli of Descartes Finance. They say the Dutch banker will have to speed up the bank’s digital transformation, cut costs, and deal with the potential fallout from the ongoing legal case in France.
Ralph who? How Hamers made the cut at UBS
In his six years as CEO of ING, Ralph Hamers has transformed the Dutch lender into a leading digital bank for mom-and-pop consumers. Now UBS is tapping his expertise on behalf of the world’s wealthiest private investors.
Europe’s new tech policy: what you need to know
CNN’s Anna Stewart waded through the proposals out today so you don’t have to. Here’s the bottom line when it comes to data and AI in Europe.
Why Europe may not need Big Tech
Europe doesn’t necessarily need companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook to be competitive in the digital economy, says Joanna Bryson, professor of ethics and technology at Hertie School in Berlin. “People worry that we’re losing competition because we don’t have these giant companies that we can’t control,” she says. “That’s not evidence that we’re doing a bad job.”
Pros and cons of taxing carbon
Taxing carbon emissions is just one piece of a broader puzzle in the effort to fight climate change, says Tony Patt, professor of climate policy at ETH Zurich. He says political risks and competition from