Skyline of the financial district

The retail investment business has largely adapted operations to the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak, but firms are worried about the effects of social isolation on employees and clients.

The Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC) surveyed retail wealth management firms to examine the effects of the pandemic on their operations. The survey found that the activation of business continuity plans (BCPs) has been relatively seamless.

Some of the issues firms are experiencing during the crisis include BCP arrangements of certain vendors that “were not up to our standards in some cases,” along with disrupted management routines.

“Firms are concerned about employee morale, about adjusting managerial systems and routines, and staying connected and engaged as a cohesive unit as they anticipate many more weeks of the new normal,” the survey found.

It noted that the required isolation of both employees and clients “has added a human challenge” that is distinct from previous episodes of market volatility, such as the global financial crisis.

To address these concerns, firms are using measures such as virtual happy hours, coffees and lunches to connect teams that are working remotely.

“While means of remote communication are readily available, the sensation of true connection is trickier,” the report said.

On the technology front, all respondents report that they are using videoconferencing to communicate with clients.

Most firms (71.4%) are using services such as Zoom and Skype to hold calls with employees, and 42.86% are creating investment podcasts for advisors and clients.

The survey also found that most firms (71.4%) are providing their advisors with talking points “to answer potential client concerns about the firm’s capital and liquidity.”

More than half (57.1%) of firms said that some of their divisions aren’t able to work remotely, such as trading and settlement, physical securities department, and the mail room.

The survey also looked at how firms will be handling employees’ expenses from working at home. More than half (57.1%) will be using expense forms, while others have set allocations for employees’ telecom bills. Some will make payments when work-from-home arrangements come to an end.