4 ways to navigate COVID-19 uncertainty from one company's experience in China

People wearing face masks are seen during lunch hour at the Galaxy Soho office buildings in Beijing, following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, China April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang - RC2I5G90DNDP
Based on what it experienced in China and Asia amid the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, Invesco created a playbook to guide each office’s operations as it adapts to local realities.
Image: REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
  • Invesco has developed a playbook for its offices around the world based on its experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in China;
  • At the peak of the pandemic, 99% of the firm's staff moved to home working, while all client-engagement activities shifted online;
  • How the company dealt with these challenges and resumes normal business operations will provide valuable lessons for the future.

COVID-19’s spread across the world has pushed companies to develop new processes and practices in real-time to respond to the pandemic.

For some time, Invesco has had a playbook for dealing with pandemics. Since China was the first country hit by the virus and will likely be the first to return to normal operations, we knew that learning from our firm’s experience in China would help us navigate through rising COVID-19 uncertainties.

Our firm has been operating in China since 2003, when we opened the first Sino-American joint venture (JV) in our industry, Invesco Great Wall, during the middle of the SARS epidemic, and today we have more than 275 staff in mainland China.

What started as an Asia-only emergency response team quickly evolved into the creation of a global team responding to COVID-19, with lessons from China informing our work. This team produced a new playbook to guide each office as it adapts to local realities. It focuses on four aspects:

  • Ensuring the health of our employees;
  • Strengthening client engagement;
  • Resuming normal business operations; and
  • Exchanging ideas on best business practices.

1. Ensuring the health of our employees

During this crisis, our colleagues’ health and safety have been a priority – this focus truly defines us as a firm amid this crisis. We implemented daily health and safety checks and quickly restricted travel, starting in mainland China and Hong Kong, and later extended worldwide. We’ve organized webinars on health and wellness to inform staff on COVID-19. These might seem routine today, but they really came about because our mainland China and Hong Kong offices needed to safeguard employees’ well-being while limiting COVID-19’s spread.

Once China locked down multiple cities, our Chinese staff were the first to work from home. We learned they needed support and flexible work arrangements to work effectively. Since then, at our peak, we have had 8,500 employees (99% of our global staff) work from home with minimal disruption to business operations or any negative impact to clients.

Technology has been a vital enabler in bringing all of Invesco together even though we may be physically apart. We asked team leaders to conduct daily staff check-ins so that employees felt connected and morale was kept up. In a recent global employee survey, 97% of our employees said that we had put their health and safety first, while 93% of staff agreed that we have done a good job responding to employee needs during this crisis.

2. Strengthening client engagement

During the pandemic, we have also focused on strengthening client engagement. When COVID-19 started to spread in China, we quickly moved all client-engagement activities, roadshows and fund launch campaigns online.

We employed live streaming, webinars and digital client meetings. Investors responded warmly. For example, an audio-messaging chat session on WeChat with a portfolio manager in late February attracted close to 9,800 participants. Digital partnerships with other distributors and content platforms helped us continue to engage our clients and provide client services throughout the pandemic.

China’s digital environment is made up of a myriad of platforms and Chinese companies and consumers are digitally savvy. All this boosted our efforts to engage clients online during the lockdown. In the first quarter, we launched five new domestic funds in China and raised $1.8 billion – despite the pandemic.

Our global colleagues saw the great potential in strengthening client engagement through digital means. As a result, our client and marketing outreach around the globe has shifted to 100% digital, often ahead of our competition. This increased digital engagement has led to stronger and closer relationships with our clients, globally.

3. Resuming normal business operations

Our third focus has been on resuming normal business operations. Globally, in the coming weeks, we will gradually return to the office – as mainland China and Hong Kong have already been doing for weeks. This will be a phased return based on the disease’s containment, our ability to meet client needs remotely and local authority guidance.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications - a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

Our China offices were first to switch to a split-team arrangement in late February. We viewed the approach as necessary before a full return to office, because it ensured that colleagues were still practising physical distancing, while mitigating the risk of a new wave of infections among our own staff. When Hong Kong started to experience increases in new confirmed cases owing to citizens returning from overseas in mid-March, we managed to quickly revert to full working-from-home mode with minimal disruption.

We are creating detailed plans on bringing our global teams safely into the office including physical distancing within the office and weekly office cleanings which were first piloted in our mainland China and Hong Kong offices.

4. Exploring best business practices

We know that the world will change for our clients, our staff and for Invesco after COVID-19. Our digital engagement efforts will grow and we will need to continue to reshape client engagement. Our workforce will increasingly adopt flexible work arrangements. We will continue to apply our learnings from the fast-moving China market in these areas to the rest of our firm.

I look back at the past few months and am heartened by our colleagues’ willingness to exchange ideas and learn from each other. The rest of our offices can learn from what our China colleagues have done and adapt these valuable lessons to local needs.

Many of us are still practising social distancing today. As we gradually emerge from our lockdowns, there is an even greater urgency for us to reach out and learn from one another. By doing so, our shared knowledge and experience can guide us forward and help us seize new possibilities.

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