Banks in Singapore are stepping up their efforts – including cutting client events and using temperature screening in buildings – to protect staff and customers in case the novel coronavirus outbreak spreads more widely across the island. Unlike in Hong Kong, however, bank branches are not closing down and most face-to-face job interviews are still going ahead in Singapore’s banking sector.
Citi, which has the largest headcount of any foreign bank in the Republic, continues to “operate normally at this current point” (Tuesday), says a Singapore-based spokesperson. But like other banks, Citi is taking “proactive measures” to help thwart the coronavirus threat, including restricting all non-essential travel by employees to mainland China until further notice, he adds. Bankers have also told us anecdotally that travel to countries other than China is being cut back. “I was due to go to Bangkok on Monday for key meetings, but the trip got abruptly postponed,” says a Singapore-based finance professional.
On Tuesday there were 24 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Singapore, although Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that there was so far “no evidence of widespread community transmission”.
Some of the most immediately visible actions against a potential wider coronavirus outbreak are at banks’ retail branches. OCBC says it has given face masks to all “frontline colleagues and to other support colleagues where necessary”. UOB is distributing face masks and hand sanitisers to its customer-facing staff “as a precaution”, says a spokesperson for the bank. It’s also providing hand sanitisers at the entrances of all its buildings for employee, tenant and visitor use, and has “increased the frequency” of cleaning its common areas, branches and ATM machines.
All UOB buildings remain open in Singapore, however, in contrast to Hong Kong, where the firm has closed its commercial banking centre in Kwun Tong from 3 to 7 February. OCBC, HSBC, and Standard Chartered have also shut some of their Hong Kong branches.
In Singapore, Standard Chartered’s precautionary measures, like those of other banks, are being carried out “in line with the Ministry of Health guidelines”, according to a statement from the firm. Stan Chart has, for example, also stepped up sanitisation at its branches and will “activate temperature screening as required”.
As in Hong Kong and elsewhere, banks in Singapore have told employees who’ve returned from China within the past 14 days to work from home for 14 days. Stan Chart has now extended this mandatory homeworking to employees who are living with recent returnees from China, but may not have gone to China themselves.
Citi has taken the same step for “employees with immediate family members who recently visited mainland China”. The US bank’s Singapore office has also instructed staff who have family from affected areas in mainland China visiting them to “inform their manager, monitor their health and work from home for 14 days from the date of their visit,” says the Citi spokesperson.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a banking job in Singapore, it’s “business as usual for interview processes”, says Angela Kuek, director of search firm The Meyer Consulting Group. “In-person meetings are still happening, unlike in Hong Kong. Overall banks are cautious, so if anyone feels unwell, there will be requests to postpone interviews,” she adds.
Big client and employee events at banks in Singapore could soon be cut back, however. Citi is “limiting large group gatherings” and has started to “make arrangements to postpone or cancel” some of its upcoming client events, says the firm’s spokesperson. This follows Credit Suisse’s decision on Tuesday to scrap its annual Asia investment conference in Hong Kong next month.
Banks in Singapore are prepared to ramp up their coronavirus strategies again if needed, but aren’t commenting on what this might entail. Citi says it already has “contingency plans in place for various scenarios as a response to the coronavirus”, while OCBC “will continue to monitor and institute more measures as soon as they become necessary”.
Should the coronavirus spread more widely in Singapore, the government will consider cancelling “mass gatherings” and may also suspend schools and pare down non-essential care services, Health Minister Gan said on Tuesday.
Photo by Ashraf M on Unsplash
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