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Singapore, HK banks boost benefits as DBS reveals coronavirus case and MAS calls for “staff morale” support

It’s not just about taking temperature checks, handing out face masks, and cutting back on meetings – banks should also “monitor and support staff morale” in response to the coronavirus, according to one of the new recommendations issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

This guideline likely reflects concerns in both Singapore and Hong Kong that the disruption already caused by the coronavirus as well as fears about a potential wider spread may be taking a toll on the mental well-being of some of their employees. Finance professionals in Singapore were given extra cause for anxiety today as DBS evacuated the 43rd floor in its Marina Bay headquarters after announcing that an employee had tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Many banks in the two Asian financial hubs haven’t needed a regulatory nudge to start making staff more aware of their so-called employee assistance programmes (EAP), while some have even introduced new morale-boosting benefits over the past few weeks that run in tandem with their practical efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

In Hong Kong, Standard Chartered is providing free breakfasts and lunches to staff in its main office buildings in Central and Kwun Tong, says a spokesperson for the bank. Employees outside these two sites have a daily meal allowance. Stan Chart is giving an extra five days’ leave to Hong Kong branch staff to “reduce the risks of infection and to ensure they can take turns to rest at home”, she adds. The firm is also “providing counselling services” in Singapore and encouraging staff to use its existing employee assistance programme, if needed.

HSBC is taking similar measures in Hong Kong, reports Bloomberg. Employees on the “front-line” and in “critical operations” have received an additional five days of leave until next year, as well as free lunch at staff canteens until mid-February, or a meal voucher.

“Mental health has been a big focus for banks in Asia over the past 12 to 18 months, even before the Hong Kong protests started. Fears about the coronavirus will only increase the anxiety and stress that employees feel, inevitably impacting their productivity and focus,” says former Barclays and UBS HR manager Renee Conklin, who now runs Hong Kong-based RC HR Consulting.

Conklin says most large banks offer employee assistance programmes that address both financial and mental well-being through forums such as staff workshops and confidential counselling services provided by external companies. “I even know of one bank piloting having a counsellor on-site one day per week for employees,” she adds. “But even smaller banks without these resources can have open communication with their employees by dedicating managers, mentors and HR staff to be a confidential sounding board to employees who are struggling.”

Deutsche Bank is running staff training sessions on building “psychological immunity”, the ability to deal with stress, says a Hong Kong-based spokesperson. It’s also reminding staff about its employee assistance programme.

We understand that Nomura staff (and their immediate family members) in Asia ex-Japan who want to discuss their concerns about the coronavirus – or any personal or career challenges – already have free access to services provided by the consultancy Optum.

The new MAS guidelines, which were issued in response to the Singapore government’s raising of its coronavirus risk assessment on Friday, also advise financial institutions to maintain effective internal controls across their operations should split-team arrangements be implemented. Moreover, firms should “anticipate and be prepared to manage any increase in demand for certain financial services, such as cash withdrawal or online financial services”, and they should “inform customers promptly of the availability of services and operating hours”.

Photo by Dhruv Deshmukh on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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