The Impact of Automation and COVID-19 on Workflows

Alison Hollingshead, Chief of Staff, Trading Platform & Core Technology, Man Group moderated a panel of leading buy-side panellists from across the globe. From Emma Quinn, Global Co-Head of Trading at AllianceBernstein based out in Sydney to Joseph Collery, Head of Trading at Comgest in Dublin to Neil Joseph, Managing Director, European Head of Equity Trading at J.P. Morgan Asset Management and Simon Steward, Head of European Equity Trading at Capital Group based in London, the panellists discussed the challenges COVID-19 presented but also the opportunities it created. For years, the industry has grappled with how to address the work life balance and how to improve diversity. The enforced transition to WFH enabled firms to rethink not only which roles were suitable to WFH, but how to enable every employee to WFH. The panellists discussed how their firms facilitated this, from the immediate technology and infrastructure issues to redefining workflows – how PMs interacted with trading desks, dealers with sell-side and the supporting infrastructure – risk, compliance, and settlement.

Again, the benefit of the Hong Kong experience allowed firms to redefine processes and to translate that across to dealing teams in London and New York, but, similarly to the regulatory panel, discussions were how to adjust this to long term change. The panellists noted the lasting effect that the pandemic will have on team set ups, with the majority of industry participants unlikely to go back to the office full-time. Instead firms are looking to implement a hybrid WFH approach to capture the positive aspect of WFH (the shorter working day, mental well-being, loss of the commute, more SLEEP, better work life balance with families) while acknowledging there are still key areas to address (loss of team collaboration, lack of interaction with your peers).

One area of particular concern is how to include, mentor and develop junior talent, retain the corporate culture, in an environment which is harder for those just starting out on their careers.

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But there are also some new unforeseen challenges emerging which could have even wider impacts on Capital Markets. One of the panellists mentioned their firm’s intention to close their New York operations and plans to relocate to Nashville. Moving Capital Markets outside of centralised London, New York, Hong Kong was already underway due to rising real estate costs and the need to minimise operational expenditure, but the speed of change is increasing, as is the variety of location, which will create an even greater reliability on technology and connectivity. Communication is moving from face to face to virtual with all the cultural changes this will entail.

Secondly, the move to virtual has humanised trading. Families, babies, dogs are joining traders on Zoom – while this improves the work life balance to an extent, individuals are noting the blurring of lines. Loss of the commute and proximity to families is a plus, but making sure the working day stops in a global 24/7 economy is a new challenge to be addressed, requiring not only a new roadmap of technical requirements but for individuals to engage with technology. Another positive that has emerged is the democratisation of individual contribution. Zoom meetings can have larger numbers of attendees and the floor becomes open to anyone who wants to speak up, again changing the cultural dynamic of regional offices vs. head office, team members and management which enables new ideas to move to the fore faster.

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