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Supplements » Luxembourg Report 2021

Roundtable: Back in the office

As our Luxembourg panel hears, up to 30% of the workforce is back in the office – but offices in future could become places of coaching, collaborating and connecting. The panel also discusses remote working, London-Luxembourg relations and the changing nature of Lux’s funds industry.

Back_to_the_office_roundtable

Marc-André Bechet (Deputy director general, Alfi)
Nicolas Mackel (CEO, Luxembourg for Finance)
Micaela Forelli (Managing director, Luxembourg, M&G Investments)
Helen Webster (Acting head of Luxembourg, Aberdeen Standard Investments)
Patricia Kaveh (Head of global sales, Crédit Mutuel Investment Managers)
Mathieu Maurier (Country head, Luxembourg, Societe Generale Securities Services)
Olivier Noel (Chief operating officer, Northern Trust Global Services SE)

Funds Europe – What is the current situation with Covid-19 in Luxembourg and how has the CSSF – the Luxembourg financial regulator – responded? And is any normalcy returning?

Marc-André Bechet, Alfi – We are in lockdown [at February 11] and teleworking is still the norm. The CSSF said for the first time on March 12, 2020 that we should use teleworking and at the time it came as an astonishment to many, but the view is that the CSSF was being forward-looking and proactive.

The last time the CSSF sent a reminder to the industry to use teleworking to the largest possible extent was October 23 and the website of the CSSF shows there have been 64 different notifications on things to be done in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.

As for ‘normalcy’, the industry has demonstrated resilience. There has not been major disruption; NAVs have been calculated, investors have been serviced. There were issues around fund suspensions – but looking across Europe, there had been only €54 billion at the peak in March, out of which just €20 billion were in Ucits, so that indicates the resilience. The markets have continued to operate, you could trade, and this has helped in stabilising the situation.

At the end of December, assets were at the highest level, close to €5 trillion. The increase in assets over the year was 5.4% and net subscriptions were €150 billion. There was not a run on funds, neither in March nor over the year. Investor confidence was still in evidence.

Micaela Forelli, M&G – Teleworking came in very quickly in March 2020, pretty much overnight, and from that point operations worked well and we knew we were supported by the authorities, including our colleagues working cross-border who were not in Luxembourg but who were comfortable getting a kind of ‘blessing’ or ‘protection’ from Luxembourg’s CSSF. That really created immediate clarity and aided communication.

I know from speaking to esteemed peers that some asset managers and other players have allowed colleagues to come back to work; up to 20-30% of the workforce is back in the office and following very strict protocols. For example, in our case, we have asked the health authorities to come in and give us a certificate that all our protocols are followed correctly, and we are safe to invite some of our critical functions colleagues back to work. But from a global perspective, the majority of our staff is still working from home.

Patricia Kaveh, Crédit Mutuel – I agree, but in my personal case, it was challenging to manage an international team from Luxembourg because, in responding to the crisis, countries were not speaking with one voice. My Italian colleagues in Italy, for example, had already been locked down for one week since March 10. The CSSF and government were pragmatic regarding border worker employees and intergovernmental agreements were quickly made between Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Germany, which helped with the management of teams in Luxembourg.

Helen Webster, Aberdeen Standard – The ‘return to normalcy’ is really a case of crisis measures now being the new normal. There are two areas that strike me. Firstly, we noticed in the early days of the crisis the CSSF understandably made a lot of information requests around market volatility and liquidity. I think markets have essentially returned almost to normal, but what we’re finding is that the CSSF has discovered it’s quite useful to have all this extra information, and so the enhanced reporting has continued. That’s something that we’re having to adapt to as it is an ongoing situation for us to support and the data isn’t always readily available.

Secondly, with ongoing teleworking, we’ve actually started a project to repurpose our office space in all our European offices, including Luxembourg, recognising that the way people use the office space may change. We think there will be a greater focus on using the office for coaching, collaborating and connecting – which very usefully in English all start with the same letter!

Mathieu Maurier, SGSS – Asset servicers proved to be highly resilient when switching to home-working virtually overnight. The tensions we had as an industry participant, as with our peers, were really around very high market volatility towards the end of March and the beginning of April 2020. That created operational tension more on the fund accounting and transfer agency sides, but it did not cause any issues or consequences for our asset management clients.

Luxembourg’s ‘hub and spoke’ model ensured resiliency not only here but beyond the border, working with France, Italy, Germany, the UK, and with India.

If you want to know what didn’t work well, it’s difficult to mention in all honesty, because without overselling the situation, I think we have proven to be highly resilient, and with the blessing and the pragmatic approach of the CSSF.

Olivier Noel, Northern Trust – Luxembourg, and many other countries, are still facing some immediate challenges with Covid-19, albeit with expectations of positive outcomes from the vaccine.

The pragmatic approach of the CSSF enabled the asset servicing business to smoothly transition into the work-from-home environment. I have to say, despite the initial market volatility that we have seen and some liquidity challenges across the industry in early March 2020, I think the industry has adapted very quickly and shown that asset servicers can still deliver their core asset servicing business, embracing greater use of digitalisation and new communication methods.