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Here’s how French banks are adapting to lock-down

France is several days ahead of London and New York in terms of the coronavirus and reactions to it. What's happening in Paris now is therefore likely to come to London and Wall Street soon.

French banks have segregated trading staff, banned  business travel and introduced a series of other measures as they  look to navigate extreme market volatility while responding to tough new government guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

The French government has taken strict measures to slow the spread of the epidemic. “We are at war,” said President Emmanuel Macron in an address to the nation on March 16 when he announced that from midday on Tuesday the country be locked down for 15 days and people will have to produce a form explaining why they are outside.

Banks are classed as ‘vital organisations’ under French law so staff are allowed to go to work but banks are trying to limit this.  SocGen said that only staff working in ‘critical operations’ will be allowed on site. The includes traders in its global markets operations who have been split into sub-teams working in segregated office areas or using of back-up sites.

A spokeswoman said: “Following the decisions taken by the French Government, Societe Generale has taken in France new measures to limit on-site travel and presence to what is strictly necessary, i.e. in relation with critical operations including markets activities.”

“Specific measures such as sanitary measures, distancing measures, rotation by sub-teams or working from home arrangements, where relevant, are in place to reduce any risk of contamination. “

The bank added that business travel is suspended and that the majority of its sales force and staff in ‘non-critical’ functions such as market support functions are working remotely.

Credit Agricole has explicitly adopted a similar policy to SocGen, and is only allowing employees whose activity is “considered critical and who cannot operate remotely will come to work either in the bank’s premises or in the recovery sites.” All other employees must work from home while visitors are no longer allowed on its premises.  The bank said these measures have been brought across from its Italian business. “At a global level, all employees’ business trips are prohibited until further notice, and remote  communications solutions are encouraged  (telephone, video conference, emails, etc.) whenever possible,” it said in a statement.  

BNP Paribas said in a statement that it is also operating ‘split teams’ and encouraging home working. A spokesperson said: “We are ensuring all measures are aligned with the government’s policy to limit physical exposure to combat the spread of COVID 19. As such we have extended working from home to all staff who are able to. Split teams are in operation across the group to ensure seamless operations and at all levels of management, from executive committee to managers across the group, we are fully engaged to ensure all staff can continue to perform their duties whilst keeping safe.”

A spokesperson for Natixis said: “ In a number of countries, including in France, all employees except those representing the most critical of functions are working from home. Globally, 80% of Natixis employees are equipped with remote connection solutions. Extensive precautionary measures have been taken to safeguard the health of those staff who are required to work from our offices.

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AUTHORDavid Rothnie Insider Comment

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