US stock markets were halted briefly Monday as a record fall in oil prices and fears of the coronavirus triggered panic selling. But the epidemic poses a much bigger logistical headache for Wall Street — how to keep trading going if banks have to evacuate their offices to fight the spread of the illness.
Global banks are already scrambling to split their workforces to reduce the risk that large numbers of employees fall ill, and testing backup sites to ensure they can continue doing business even if they can no longer access Wall Street or locations in central London.
JPMorgan Chase has started dividing its sales and trading teams between separate offices. It told employees in an email that this is a “precautionary measure” to make sure the bank can continue to run smoothly. The firm runs alternate sites in Brooklyn and New Jersey, and in Basingstoke, about 50 miles southwest of London.
Bank of America said it is splitting its fixed income and equities trading teams from Monday, sending some people to a backup site in Stamford, Connecticut.Deutsche Bank said it has split some London operations and trading teams, with some employees working from home.
Traders at Goldman Sachs have ramped up testing of their ability to work from home and alternate sites, according to a source familiar with the investment bank’s plans. HSBC, which had to deep clean a floor of its London headquarters last week and send some staff home after an employee contracted the virus, said that it had invoked split-site working arrangements for its teams in Asia, and that it does not expect any disruption to services in Europe.
Still, the coronavirus pandemic poses the biggest logistical challenge for the finance industry since Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, and before that, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.