Typhoon Hato may have smashed skyscraper windows, torn down trees and injured scores of people in Hong Kong, but for some banking professionals it provided a brief respite from the stresses of working in finance.
The storm, which triggered Hong Kong’s highest ‘Typhoon 10’ warning for just the third time in the past 20 years, shut down the territory’s stock market and closed offices on Wednesday.
Banks in Central followed long-established government protocols – less severe typhoons regularly hit Hong Kong between July and October – and told staff not to come into work. “We typically send emails out the day before to prepare people for the possibility of a typhoon day,” says an HR manager at a global bank.
Not all employees had their noses to the grindstone at home, however. “I worked from my apartment in the morning, then looked after the kids, and then went for a beer on the waterfront to see the after-effects of the storm,” says a director at a large US financial institution.
“People at my firm see a typhoon day more as a free holiday than as a lost day of work. There’s actually a bit of excitement and fun about it,” he adds. “If you have calls with international colleagues you’ll definitely still take them, but you’ll feel like you missed out on the day a bit.”
Banking professionals typically try to combine work and leisure during typhoons. “Hong Kong is a productive city, so most employees do some work from home. But I’ve seen people going shopping or to the movies, or having drinks – not all businesses are shut for the whole day,” says former Standard Chartered head of selection Henry Chamberlain, now an executive coach.
The amount of work you do on a typhoon day ultimately depends on your job description. Back-office roles, for example, can be heavily dependent on office-bound technology.
“In operations, working from home isn’t an option,” says Alex Medana, an ex-head of APAC cash equities client service at Deutsche Bank who now runs fintech company FinFabrik. Large banks typically delegate urgent processing work to other global offices when Hong Kong shuts down for a typhoon.
Investment bankers, by contrast, tend to spend most of the day working, albeit at a more relaxed pace. “Bankers are less affected by typhoon days because they can work almost anywhere as long as they have wifi for their laptop. The main disruption is if you need to reschedule flights or client meetings,” says Eric Sim, a former UBS managing director who’s currently a guest lecturer at Renmin University. About 400 flights were cancelled during Typhoon Hato.
Traders, meanwhile, are less busy but still stay in touch with markets. “There’s usually at least minimal coverage from Hong Kong as international markets are still open, although some of the coverage may be shifted to other offices if necessary,” say trader-turned-headhunter Warwick Pearmund. “Traders simply work from home. Remote access, even for systems like Bloomberg, is now the norm.”
Working remotely doesn’t always go smoothly, however. “We knew in advance about the latest typhoon, so we could take our laptops home. But my computer refused to start on Wednesday and IT support was offline,” says another senior banker in Hong Kong. “I had to work off my phone and make a stack of calls to people outside HK. Now I’m back in the office and I’m swamped – not by water, but by work.”
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