If you are not in the office today, chances are you will not be on Friday either when phase two of Singapore’s three-stage economic reopening plan kicks in. While personal freedoms – from eating out to meeting in small groups – will be expanded at the end of the week, most finance professionals will still not be back in their office blocks.
Like it did during phase one, which started on 2 June, the Singapore government is reinforcing the message that employees must work from home and go to the office only if there is no alternative.
“We would still ask all employers to make work from home or telecommuting a default setting,” National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday. “So even if more businesses are allowed to reopen, employers should continue to ensure that employees who can work from home continue to work from home,” he added.
Banks are not rushing to bring people back to their desks, aside from the customer services employees who returned at the beginning of this month under Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) rules allowing on-site staff to deal with essential enquiries. Despite the relatively early implementation of phase two, Citi is sticking with its previous plan to keep 88% of its Singapore headcount working remotely until July and return its staff slowly and incrementally, says a spokesperson.
It’s a similar story at Standard Chartered. “The majority of our workforce have adapted well to working from home and continue to engage with our clients,” says a spokesperson. “For phase two, we will continue to monitor the situation and align with government guidelines as we look at a cautious and phased approach to opening our offices progressively to ensure that the health and safety of our clients and people are not compromised,” she adds.
Most finance professionals we spoke with say they are happy that they will likely be working from home during phase 2, which could last for months. “For me, nothing much is changing for now as I’m not considered to be in an essential financial services job,” says a hedge fund professional. “Most people in the finance sector have got used to WFH and want to keep on doing so as they’re still cautious about contracting the virus,” adds Liu San Li, a former private banker, now a business partner at wealth management firm Avallis.
There are exceptions, however. “Relationship managers and sales staff are among those who would generally prefer to be in the office. Even though many have begun to enjoy online meetings, they still prefer face-to-face. And their personalities are inclined towards being out and about,” says Liu.
One finance professional in Singapore says bankers should only come back to the office when clients start demanding more in-person meetings. “It will be interesting to see how business dealings evolve under this new normal. Will ‘I’ll set up a meeting in the office’ continue to be frowned upon? And if so, is there any point being in the office?” he adds.
Bankers wanting to meet clients in person currently have to jump through hoops. MAS rules state that: “FIs [financial institutions] providing financial advice on banking, insurance and investment products, and private banks offering wealth management advice, will be permitted to have in-person meetings with their customers at their business premises only with MAS approval and subject to additional safe management measures.”
The Ministry of Health said on its website yesterday that stringent measures for workplaces will continue to apply under phase two. “Employers must continue to ensure that there are no social gatherings between employees, and safe distancing of at least one metre is maintained at all times,” the ministry added. Singapore’s workplace rules, which can be viewed in detail here, include the mandatory wearing of masks and the need to stagger work and break hours.
Meanwhile, MAS warns on its website that it will: “continue to conduct onsite inspections to check that safe management requirements are implemented at FIs’ premises, especially at customer-facing locations. Actions will be taken against FIs that fail to comply with the required safe management requirements”.
Photo by Brandon Holmes on Unsplash
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