Bird Flu Puts Banks on Offensive

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Banks are considering sending employees home to work in the event of a pandemic of avian flu.

Victor Meyer, global head of business continuity management at Deutsche Bank, says the bank is considering the feasibility of trading staff working from home if the HN51 virus becomes transmissible between human beings: "We need to look at the art of the possible."

Last month, Deutsche Bank and the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh held a symposium in New York aimed at preparing the financial industry for human to human transmission of avian flu.

The symposium was hosted by Seth Waugh, chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank Americas. Fifteen banks attended, as well as Deutsche Bank clients and public sector bodies. Speakers included Rajeev Venkayya, a senior director for biodefense at the US Homeland Security Council.

Meyer says a pandemic would represent a substantial threat to business: "If the HN51 virus were to mutate and become transmissible between human beings it would spread much more quickly than SARS, likely be more virulent, and post a greater disruptive challenge to operations."

Deutsche Bank has been considering the implications of a pandemic since October 2004, and has established working groups addressing the issue in Europe and the Middle East, Asia and the US.

Meyer says, "Our initial planning assumptions are that markets would stay open and that regulators would be pragmatic about licensing and immigration requirements."

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup declined to comment on their preparedness for a potential flu pandemic. One bank said its staff are vaccinated against winter flu viruses as a matter of course.

The Securities & Exchange Commission also declined to comment, while the UK Financial Services Authority said H5N1 was a health issue and declined to comment further.