“We’ve Seen Some Deaths” – StanChart Scrambles To Find Oxygen For COVID-Stricken Staffers In India
If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that dealmaking doesn’t come to a stop just because of a once-in-a-century global pandemic. And although some have written the obituary for the SPAC boom, there’s clearly still enough dealmaking activity happening in India to warrant investment banks pushing ahead even as the second wave of the country’s COVID-19 pandemic leads to unprecedented devastation.
And as banks work to ensure their employees can grind on regardless of the circumstances, Bloomberg reported that StanChart is attempting to buy medical grade oxygen for workers in its Indian offices who have become stricken with COVID-19.
Chief Financial Officer Andy Halford says the London-based bank is “actively” attempting to find oxygen concentrators with hundreds of the company’s 20K-plus staff based in India infected.
“I think we have got 800 cases currently of Covid and I think in total we have had some deaths among our employees in India to date,” Halford said in a phone interview after the bank published first-quarter earnings.
“We are actively out there seeing what we can do make vaccine more available, and particularly offer more locations where staff can get it,” he said. However, he added the bank was reluctant to use “connections that would be inappropriate.”
Standard Chartered is one of the biggest international banks operating in India. As well as providing banking and wealth management services in the country it also operates major back-office hubs in Bangalore and Chennai.
StanChart CEO Bill Winters said that in reaction to the crisis, the bank is looking to transfer work away from India to service centers in Kuala Lumpur, Tianjian and Warsaw to help support employees within the country. “We are looking carefully at how we can rebalance loads,” Winters reportedly told the bank’s analysts on Thursday.
“We have material case counts amongst our population, both in our services center and in the bank itself, consistent with what we are seeing across the country,” Winters said. “We’ve kept most of our branches open, banks are considered essential services, so we have had a disproportionate share of the cases in the branches’ staff, very unfortunately.”
While most of the bank’s staffers are working from home, especially in hard-hit cities like Bangalore and Chennai, where the bank has thousands of employees, some 10% of front-office personnel are still working in the office at least part time.
Their efforts helped the bank post an 18% jump in Q1 pre-tax profit as it cited the economic “recovery” seen in many of its key international markets (including India) as COVID-19 restrictions were loosened. To be sure, some of the bank’s strong quarterly performance was due to the bank dedicating less cash to offset feared loan losses, but trading, dealmaking and particularly strong performance in the bank’s wealth management business also contributed to the jump in profits.