Running a bank during COVID-19

08 September 2020

“It went surprisingly well” says CEO Christian Bjørløw when asked about his experiences of running a bank during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Running a bank during times such as the COVID-19 lockdown is not something any CEO could ever imagine having to do. Christian comments, “If you had asked me 8 months ago, if it was possible to run a bank with approximately 95% of the staff working from home, I would probably have said that it’s not possible. However, with all communication via Facetime, Teams, Zoom, and other new medias that became extremely popular during lock-down, it was possible”.

The Bank reacted swiftly when the lockdown started. The main entrance were closed to the public and a majority of the employees were sent home. “We were so lucky that we had taken a wise decision three years ago in providing all employees with their own laptops. This meant that they could take their laptops and work from home, enabling us to function more or less as normal” Christian says.  “We closed our doors during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and since then followed the plan and phases laid out by the Gibraltar Government. We also re-opened the Bank in line with these phases. We have very spacious premises which enabled us to maintain social distance in the workplace.” he added.

Trusted Novus Bank began to request the first tranche of employees to return to the office on the 1st May. By approximately mid-May, half of the employees were back in the office, and by around mid-July, more or less everyone had returned. Christian says, “The Bank is of course operating in line with Gibraltar Government regulations and recommendations. We ensure colleagues maintain social distance, the numbers in our canteen is restricted, and face-to-face meetings with clients are limited, using on-line meetings when possible. When we do meet our clients in the Bank then social distancing is observed”

Christian continues, “Although lockdown was very challenging to the business, we proved that we were still able to operate. It caused us to test our contingency plan, which you hope you will never have to test. Suddenly we had a live situation where we had to put the plan to the test. I don’t believe that any clients sensed that we were working from home.”

Covid-19 also provided an opportunity to analyse and assess many of the Bank’s processes.  “One thing having colleagues working from home highlighted was that a lot of our processes involve the movement of paper from one person to another, which was clearly not possible during lockdown. Consequently, we had to investigate how we could solve this via e-mail and scanned copies. Many good ideas arose; some of them we continue to use even with us all back in the office. It definitely challenged many of our processes and has caused us to be even more efficient.” commented Christian.

It was not only the safety and health of the employees that had to be considered. The safety of the clients and client’s businesses was an extremely high priority too.

“We said from day one that we would support our clients 100%. We were very adamant that we would be in contact with our clients during these worrying times. Combined with the fears of the pandemic came plunging financial markets, with declines of around 30-40%, understandably causing fear and uncertainty amongst our clients. All our Relationship Managers had their focus on calling our clients, being in daily contact with most of them and advising them about their investments. We were trying to give them the best advice we could, despite global uncertainty.” Christian said.

“We kept our front doors closed, but we kept our cash handling open for our cash reliant clients. These visits were via appointment only and we encouraged clients to limit coming to the bank. Although there was much less cash during the lockdown, there was still need for some cash handling and so we of course did all possible to meet our client’s requirements.”

Christian continues, “Some clients needed help with credit facilities. We assisted some clients who needed help with their mortgages. We agreed that they did not have to pay their full mortgage amount for the next four or five months. Instead, they could pay interest only on their mortgage. It has been amazing to see how well the clients have come though this crisis. One of our values is to be “Personal”, and we aim to be close to our clients. Giving our clients personal advice and staying close to them is also one of the ways we have dealt with COVID-19.”

Christian applauds the Gibraltar Government. “I think that the Government have been extremely successful in their communication during the entire lockdown process. They have adhered to their plan from the outset, and not deviated. Gibraltar, I must say, from day one has handled the situation in an exemplary manner. They locked down the society when it was necessary, and they financially supported businesses and cross border workers. Thankfully, we have not had any deaths from COVID-19 in Gibraltar which is tremendous in such a tightly knit community where people are normally in close contact on a daily basis.”

“We have not yet seen the full impact yet, but I believe that the clients and the employees and the jurisdiction in general, has done extremely well during COVID-19.” Christian states.