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Financial firms step up fight against spread of coronavirus

[FRANKFURT] Banks and other large financial companies in major cities across the world ramped up their emergency measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus on Tuesday, with Barclays Plc and BlackRock Inc confirming one case each of the disease in their New York offices.

Barclays told staff on Tuesday that an employee who works on a trading floor in its Midtown Manhattan office had tested positive for the virus and advised employees who worked in the vicinity or had meetings with the individual to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to a memo seen by Reuters.

A Barclays spokesman confirmed the case.

A BlackRock employee in its 40 East 52nd Street office in New York informed the company on Monday evening that they had been diagnosed with Covid-19, according to statement from a spokesman. The employee had no symptoms, but the company has conducted a deep clean of the area the individual works in and colleagues who may have been in close contact have been notified to work from home for 14 days, the spokesman said.

The asset manager said business continuinty plans were working, including provisions for teams to alternate working from the office and from home to limit exposure.

"The business is operating at full strength, and there is no impact on our ability to serve our clients," the spokesman said.

Wells Fargo & Co said on Monday an employee at one of its locations in San Francisco tested positive for the virus, and employees who were in close contact with the individual were asked not to come into the office for two weeks.

EUROPEAN CASES

In Europe, Deutsche Bank and BBVA reorganised operations after employees were infected.

Deutsche Bank has split some of its trading operations across sites in Frankfurt, while Spain's BBVA has shut one building at its headquarters in Madrid.

The spread of the coronavirus is increasingly disrupting financial companies' operations and adds to the impact of a weaker economy on their businesses.

"Banks will see a weakening of their loan book quality as the effects of the virus will reduce global travel and factory output, and dampen domestic demand in Europe," Moody's analyst Bernhard Held said.

The European Union's banking watchdog said it was focusing on ensuring banks can continue operating during the coronavirus crisis and was in contact with members over measures needed.

European banking stocks recovered some of their recent losses on Tuesday.

Private equity firm KKR & Co Inc said late on Monday that an employee at its London office had tested positive, causing it to temporarily close both its sites in the city.

Standard Life Aberdeen said on Tuesday it was planning to split its British and US investment teams into groups and have them work separately as part of contingency planning.

Traders at the world's biggest banks began last week swapping their plush city centre offices to work from suburban outposts in New York and London, facing lengthy commutes as their employers attempt to reduce the disruption caused by coronavirus.

British bank Halifax, which is owned by Lloyds Banking Group, has shut a call centre in Northern Ireland that employs 1,000 people after a member of staff tested positive to coronavirus.

The measures by Deutsche on Tuesday are expected to affect dozens of people and last until at least March 27. The bank also split some operations in London on Monday, following similar moves in places including Italy and China.

"We expect no impact on our ability to operate our full range of services for our clients and recognise that this setup will require extra effort and discipline from all," Deutsche said in a memo to staff.

REUTERS