The Financial Conduct Authority has issued instructions to senior managers of authorised firms to make decisions as to which staff need to travel to their firm’s premises in the current health emergency and which do not.

Banks, building societies and credit unions might be classed as ‘essential’ financial services, for example few would dispute that were the banks to be unable to keep the money supply flowing, modern society would cease to function in its current form. The FCA says:

“Our current advice to banks and building societies is that they should keep branches and contact centres open, where possible, as they are deemed essential for civil and commercial functions.”

This might inevitably mean that firms carrying out essential services would need to have a higher proportion of their staff in the office than some firms in other financial sectors, but even the ‘essential’ firms need to look at which staff can feasibly carry out their roles from home. In the modern technologically advanced world, many different job roles can be carried out from home, with employees interacting via telephone, email, web chat, social media, video chat etc.

On this subject, the FCA says:

“As the regulator of the UK financial services industry, we strongly support the UK Government’s efforts to protect the public by ensuring only those workers who cannot work from home, continue to travel to and from work.

“Each firm’s designated Senior Manager or equivalent person is responsible for identifying which of their employees are unable to perform their jobs from home and have to travel to the office or business continuity site. We expect the total number of roles requiring an ongoing physical presence in the office or business continuity site to be far smaller than the number of workers needed to ensure all of a firm’s business activities continue to function on a business as usual basis.”

In summary then, regardless of the activity the firm carries out, there should be very few ‘busy’ offices across UK financial services right now.

The FCA has also explicitly stated that certain staff should not be attending an office location or carrying out face-to-face meetings, and these include:

  • Financial advisers – in practice very few of these now work from busy offices full-time anyway, but they may need to get used to conducting client meetings online or by phone
  • IT staff, unless they are supervising important office-based systems and technology
  • Those offering claims management services
  • Those offering non-essential loans and credit

Some firms have responded to the current crisis by suspending new business activities, or by massively reducing the level of business they are processing. One of the reasons some firms have done this is that their main method of generating this new business was via the traditional large-scale call centre.

This may mean that the concept of ‘furloughing’ becomes relevant to some financial firms, even though it was initially thought it would be most relevant to workers in pubs, restaurants, non-essential retailers etc. If a firm chooses to furlough an employee, it means they have not made them redundant but have given them leave of absence because they cannot provide them with any work at the present time. Where the furlough is due to coronavirus, the Government will pay 80% of the individual’s salary, up to £2,500 per month, and it is up to the firm whether they choose to top up that salary to 100% or leave it at 80%.

However, the regulator is also clear that firms cannot use coronavirus as an excuse to suspend all operations. If a firm thinks that the health crisis will mean it will be unable to complete its investigations into customer complaints within six months, then it must contact the FCA first and explain the specific reasons for this. Additionally, one of the FCA’s first communications regarding coronavirus stressed the need for firms to ensure they can continue to service existing customers.

The information shown in this article was correct at the time of publication. Articles are not routinely reviewed and as such are not updated. Please be aware the facts, circumstances or legal position may change after publication of the article