As India’s worst coronavirus-hit state Maharashtra has enforced a partial shutdown, financial capital Mumbai has come to a standstill.
But the financial markets fraternity is rising to the occasion in a show of its characteristic never-say-die spirit.
As soon as the stock exchanges on Friday announced relaxations to allow work from home, big brokerages rushed to issue guidelines to facilitate their employees to operate out of their homes, wherever possible.
They have also put up alternative facilities for the on-ground staff, in a bid to make the ongoing social distancing drive successful.
Top brokerages told ETMarkets.com on Saturday that after the exchanges allowed those relaxations, they have temporarily permitted employees to log on to trading systems from remote locations to put through client orders and execute transactions.
Vijay Bhushan, President at ANMI, an association that represents 900 members, said brokerage are taking steps to ensure that their clients are not inconvenienced and trading volumes do not suffer.
He said stock exchanges’ decision to allow brokers to trade on behalf of clients from remote locations was a swift and appreciable response to the virus outbreak.
The sanitation of office premises, redesigning of IT policies to meet regulatory requirements and setting up of disaster recovery sites under business contingency plan are underway, said Sudhir Dhar, Executive Director & Head of HR at Motilal Oswal Financial Services.
He said most of Motilal Oswal employees were already working from home since March 17, except for what he called ‘business-critical staff’ .
The business-critical employees, on the other hand, will work from ‘secondary office locations’ closer to their homes, so that they could avoid public transport, he said.
Nikhil Kamath, CIO and Co-founder Zerodha and True Beacon, said his companies had already made necessary investments in technology and infrastructure to provide employees with the capabilities to work remotely.
“Covid-19 will have both a cultural and institutional impact where businesses will be compelled to reflect their longstanding ‘work from home; policies and technologies that enable them to do so,” Kamath said.
Historically, a turmoil accompanying such downturns significantly reconfigures a business and often removes redundancies, he said.
Edelweiss said it has implemented various tools and is partnering with companies like Microsoft, Zscaler and AWS “to ensure better productivity and a better experience for customers even in these unprecedented times.”
Currently, more than 90% of Edelweiss Group employees, i.e. 9,000 people, have been enabled and are working seamlessly from home, while ensuring that client information and data are protected at all times.
“Employees are using digital tools for online video meetings and secure instant messaging through Microsoft Teams. They are accessing internal applications hosted on our ‘On Premises Datacenter’ as well as AWS/Azure Cloud, using the zero trust security platforms of Zscaler and Microsoft. Our digital engagement internally has gone up 30 times in the last week,” said Nitin Agarwal, CTO Edelweiss.
He said Edelweiss Group was holding over 1,500 online video meetings a day (up from just 30 the previous week).
Ravi Kumar, co-founder at Upstox, a discount broking firm, said his company has pro-actively started implementing work from home policy for most of its employees for a week.
“That’s the advantage of being a technology-driven online business,” he said, adding that his online brokerage has been witnessing healthy month-on-month growth in the number on new demat accounts and transactions, given the online nature of the business.
Queries sent to Sharekhan and IndiaNivesh remained unanswered as Saturday was a holiday for them.
Other brokerages said meetings with external visitors are being called off or are being done via video conferencing.
Lav Chaturvedi ED & CEO at Reliance Securities said his team had been working on a contingency plan since the outbreak of Covid 19.
“This has given us the agility to continue with our operations in these challenging times. We do not expect any hit on our business as our customers can seamlessly transact using our digital platforms across web & mobile,” he said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddav Thackeray on Friday announced a lockdown of Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Pimpri till March 31. While essential services will be in place, government offices will operate with just 25 per cent attendance.
At the time of writing of this report, Maharashtra accounted for 56 out of the total 275 confirmed cases in India so far. They included singer Kanika Kapoor, who has also been booked for negligence.
NSE said the arrangement will continue till April 30 or longer if the situation demands.
This would be the first time in history when the brokerages are being permitted to operate the trading terminals from locations other than main or branch offices or from the office of an authorised person.
That said, stock exchanges have asked brokers to put in place an internal policy to prevent unauthorised trading and provide a list of approved users, terminal details, segment, certificate details and addresses of the alternate locations to the exchange.
The virus fears have rattled financial markets globally. The Philippines shut down its financial markets last week amid a surge in volatility. There has been debates in the US and also in India whether domestic stock exchanges should be shut.
Indian investors have lost Rs 44 lakh crore in wealth since January 25 in the market turmoil triggered by the virus crisis. To curb the market free fall, Sebi on Friday stepped up and announced curbs on short positions in the F&O segment, raised margins for non-F&O stocks in cash market and revised marketwide position limits.
Globally, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has lowered the threshold for reporting short-selling to regulators for the next three months. Hedge funds and other investors in the region will have to give regulators more information about the bets.
France, Italy, Belgium and Spain have introduced temporary measures to halt bets on falling shares at scores of companies.
On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an address to the nation described social distancing as the key measure to contain the virus. He warned that the next 3-4 weeks will be crucial for the country to tackle the crisis.