If anyone should be paranoid about Ebola on planes, it’s the average senior M&A banker who spends months each year in the sky – especially the average M&A banker focused on clients in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, banks appear sanguine about the chances of their rainmakers catching the disease.
Of 12 banks we contacted in London, only one said definitively that it had issued guidance to staff about Ebola – and this took the form of a Q&A on the disease itself, rather than advice on measures to mitigate the risk of exposure to it whilst travelling. UBS and Barclays said they had not issued any guidance to staff. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citi, Bank of America and JPMorgan were unable to confirm either way.
The head of HR at one Africa-based investment bank said Ebola contingency planning is simply something that he would not be involved in. And one senior M&A banker who is busy doing deals to develop Africa’s power and energy franchise said the disease isn’t an issue for him – partly because he doesn’t travel to the worst affected countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Banks have been busy issuing client-focused research notes on Ebola, however. Deutsche Bank’s travel and leisure team issued a note last week warning that hospitality stocks were falling as the crisis spreads out of West Africa. In a separate client note, Dr. Schaffnit–Chatterjee a senior analyst at Deutsche, warned that ‘behavioural effects’ like reduced flying and reduced commercial activity (shopping) could be among the biggest effects of the epidemic, but that they are unlikely to be felt outside Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been a hot market for financial services firms in recent years. Barclays, Blackstone and Carlyle have all been building their presence in the region and ex-Barclays CEO Bob Diamond has set up Atlas Mara, an investment company to buy banks on the continent.
Investment banks have been swift to respond to employee threats in the past. Goldman Sachs and Citi both vaccinated their employees against swine flu back in 2009 and Goldman encouraged visitors to its offices to sterlize their hands with alcohol gel placed on its reception desks.