As the cautious return to work continues, banks and their employees are having to think about what kind of risks they are prepared to take. It’s a process curiously similar to that of calculating a risk budget for a trading desk. There are some one-off risks which might be worth taking for an outsize potential return, like going into quarantine in order to be allowed to make a billion dollar pitch. Then there are some things that are just strictly forbidden because they’re too risky, like staff canteens and crowded elevators. But there’s also a whole grey area of normal business, where you kind of know that you’re piling up individual small risks for the sake of minor convenience, and hope that they’re not suddenly going to add up to something that makes you feel very foolish with the benefit of hindsight.
The thing about this particular risk budget is that, unlike on a trading desk, everything that an employee does has the potential to affect the overall coronavirus risk of the whole bank, even when they’re not at work. Therefore, as well as informing employees that strict hygiene rules are still in place, Deutsche Bank’s COO of Germany, Christian Berendes, has found himself having to mention some touchy issues in a memo to staff at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt as they come back into the office. Berendes writes that DB's returning employees shouldn't be too complacent about “falling infection rates, nice weather, and increasing life on the streets.” Nor should they be tempted into business travel, which is still "verboten." Most importantly, though, Berendes offers caution to Deutsche Bank's German staff thinking of overseas vacations who need to be aware that quarantine measures could be reimposed at any moment.
Deutsche Bank's concern is touching, but it also highlights the issues banks and other employers face in returning to work. In the new world, employers don't just have an interest in what an employee does during working hours - but in what goes on the rest of the time too. If you spend part of your summer in a crowded hotel pool, it could have repercussions. If you go overseas, you could find yourself quarantined upon your return.
In time, this could create all kinds of dilemmas as bankers combine work and domestic risk budgets. If you do a roadshow in Milan, does that mean that the bank owes you a visit to your family in Stockholm? Or, will you be expected to cancel a planned holiday in Florida to save up the coronavirus risk credits for a pitch meeting in Chicago? Will the mystery JPM team in Basingstoke have to make a business case for their sibling’s wedding in Manchester? Unfortunately, this looks like yet another issue over which bad bosses will make their subordinates lives more unbearable.
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