1. Was Degroof Petercam prepared for the pandemic of the Corona virus?
I don't think that at the beginning of January, any CEO in Europe would have been able to predict the extent that this health crisis was going to take on a global scale and for our country. Our business continuity plan covers various crisis scenarios. It was re-tested at the end of 2019 and had proven to be very robust.
In fact, our job by definition consists of analyzing all developments and assess their economic and financial impact. From this point of view, we have been able to demonstrate great responsiveness. We launched our continuity plan as early as the week of the February school-break: colleagues were informed during their leave that they had to stay at home if they had travelled to a risk area, we planned computer network capacity tests and ordered additional IT equipment to be able to deal with any scenario. Since then, our taskforce has been monitoring the situation on a daily basis in close consultation with the Executive Committee, with two top priorities: the well-being of our employees and service to our clients.
2. How do you work today?
Since March 16, everyone who is able to do so has been working from home. 97% of colleagues are now working remotely and the group is functioning well. A few staff members remain active in our offices provided that they respect strict precaution measures.
In Belgium, we had gradually introduced home working a few years ago, so most of our colleagues were already very familiar with the digital organization of teams and processes from a distance. For some departments and for our subsidiaries abroad, the switch was accelerated, benefiting from the experience gained in the rest of the group.
This crisis has confirmed the resilience of our staff members and the soundness of our processes.
For me, this is probably one of the most astonishing facts: that an entire company can be placed in telework so quickly without major disruptions. This was made possible by dedicated colleagues who trained our employees and adapted our IT systems over the past years.
3. What is the impact of the crisis on your clients?
The health crisis has also led to a financial crisis. Plummeting stock markets have of course had an impact on our clients' assets.
Since its foundation in 1871, Degroof Petercam has gone through a number of complex periods, some of them even dramatic. This experience, combined with the expertise of our employees, is our strength today. More than ever, our attitude remains the same: keeping a cool head and taking all necessary precautions. Our clients can count on a continuous flow of information about their investments through direct telephone contacts, chats, webinars and our digital application. We receive positive feedback from our clients, with regards to the management of their assets as well as to our interaction with them. This crisis is an ideal time to capitalize on one of our prime asset: the human connection with our clients, the pledge of their trust in us.
4. How do you see the future?
Above all, my dearest wish is that our staff and their families remain healthy. We all have children, parents and friends. This is a top priority. In addition, I want to prevent colleagues from becoming socially isolated. That's why we have launched a 'Working Apart Together' platform, which focuses on mental resilience, physical exercise, ergonomic advice, contact moments, etc.
As a company, it is also important to take our social responsibility. The work of charities we normally support through our Foundation once again proves their value in the current context. Moreover we decided to further increase our commitment and support the crisis efforts of Médecins du Monde/Dokters van de Wereld and Close the Gap.
I don't pretend to have a crystal ball, but I remain convinced of two things.
First: at some point, this crisis will end.
Second: we will come out of it stronger.
We also learn from this crisis. These lessons are valuable and we will seize every opportunity that comes our way. I am fundamentally convinced that companies that do not reinvent themselves will have difficulties to get through this ordeal. Agility, teamwork and the human dimension: that's exactly what makes our group strong. We will continue to develop our company thanks to our human values, our entrepreneurial spirit, our will to succeed and our desire to empower our clients to realize their ambitions.