With the prospect of a swine flu pandemic increasing as the northern hemisphere’s winter season draws nearer, companies in the financial sector are being urged to step up their business continuity planning to cope with lower staff levels.
UK financial regulator the Financial Services Authority (FSA) began contacting ‘high impact’ firms in May – including exchanges and clearing houses – to establish whether swine flu could affect any aspects of their business.
“The first wave of swine flu has been relatively mild, but a potential second wave could form a mutant strain that is more virulent and could cause greater levels of staff sickness, which will be a big concern for investment management firms,” said Matt Elkington, director, risk and assurance services, PricewaterhouseCoopers. “There is an element of the unknown with a pandemic such as the one we are facing, especially in this globally connected world, but one contingency is that a lot of businesses can also operate electronically.”
The virus has been given ‘Phase 6’ status by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the peak of its pandemic phase descriptions, defined as a human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in the same WHO region, with community level outbreaks in at least one other country in another WHO region.
At the end of August, the cumulative global total of swine flu cases was 200,000, according to an estimate by the WHO, including 42,500 occurrences in Europe. These estimates are thought to be conservative as countries are no longer required report individual cases.
The London Stock Exchange has informed the FSA that traders at member firms who need to be quarantined can work from home as long as they follow the same regulations and guidelines that they normally follow at the office. According to Elkington, the sensitivity of information handled by investment management firms will have to be considered carefully before any similar decisions are made.
“Firms that have a large staff dependency have been investing time to adapt avian flu and business continuity plans for swine flu,” he said. “These firms will have to think about information and IT security before letting people work from home.”
IP Trade, a provider of trading turrets, offers Turret Lite, hardware that is connected over a virtual private network and gives traders full access to all their applications.
“Trading desks need to ensure that they have buildings, systems and processes for dealing with pandemics,” said Chris Bates, vice president sales and marketing, IP Trade. “We generally find that buildings and systems are taken care of, but the process, in terms of effective communications with colleagues, still needs some work.”