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Sunday, October 14, 2007 

Microbiological Threats to the Financial Sector and the Global Economy

Microbiological Threats to the Financial Sector and the Global Economy
From the same folks who produced the White Paper on Microbiological Threats to the National Power Grid, there is a similar document aimed toward the financial sector.

From the preface:
"On August 10, 2007, executives from 11 of the country's leading financial services institutions came together in New York City to participate in the Executive Roundtable Series: Advanced Pandemic Planning for Financial Leaders. They came to share what is working in their companies, to pool their thinking about pandemic dilemmas, and to tackle issues not yet reconciled. They participated in experiential exercises, confronting issues likely to arise in a real-world pandemic. Pandemic simulations looked at (1) avian flu confined to Asia and its impact on the U.S.; and (2) a global contagion including widespread cases in North America.

This exceptional group of experienced and thoughtful leaders represented the following companies:
* Charles Schwab
* ChicagoFIRST
* Citigroup
* Fidelity
* Goldman Sachs
* Lehman Brothers
* Northern Trust
* Morgan Stanley
* Visa

This paper extracts key points and observations from the roundtable and integrates them with the authors' experiences and observations to create a guide with the most current thinking on pandemic planning for use by opinion leaders and decision makers. ---"
Keep in mind this paper was written for 11 of the USA Leading Financial Services Institutions.

More exerpts from the document:
Pg. 5:
A pandemic will give rise to legal issues as well. Although the most obvious and numerous are the labor and employment questions, other matters may be equally or even more important to financial institutions.
* Your contracts impose obligations difficult or impossible to meet, or to enforce.
* Well-intentioned but erroneous communications may trigger claims.
* Coverage disputes between insured companies and their carriers are probable.
* Perhaps most disconcerting, disgruntled shareholders may seek their remedies at law against corporate boards for losses that, they will claim, could have been avoided or diminished had planning been better.

Pg. 7:
A Different Game
Business continuity planners in U.S. financial institutions typically have been thinking about and planning for the possibility of a pandemic more than just about any other business Sector.

Pg. 7:
What It Might Look Like
Meanwhile, many governmental agencies and global entities have weighed in with disconcerting warnings.

* The avian flu will spread around the world quickly - perhaps in as little as three weeks and probably not more than six. In a worst-case scenario, a foreign government might cover up its regional spread so that, when it finally becomes known, the surge is well beyond what anyone realized, cutting more deeply into reaction time.

* Countries may close their borders quickly, but such actions will not contain the spread. Tens of thousands of people fly from continent to continent daily, and it takes only a relatively few asymptomatic, infected people to infect virtually all of North America (or any other nation or continent). It may seem implausible, but computer modeling has demonstrated the geometric procession of this phenomenon repeatedly. (In the 1918 pandemic, people in remote rural villages and as far north as Eskimos along the Arctic Circle were affected.)

* Economic shockwaves, however, will likely hit the U.S. before public health difficulties. At the earliest sign of something serious developing (probably in Asia), many investors will begin shifting from stocks and bonds to cash or gold. If that happens, the global economy would falter. In the worst case, there could be 'runs' on banks (and/or ATM machines), settlement capabilities could be taxed, and, despite all post-9/11 intentions and ongoing Treasury Department-directed exercises, some markets could close, further exacerbating the discontinuity of commerce worldwide. (Specific implications for financial institutions are examined throughout the remainder of this paper.)

* As the disease progresses, more and more leaders, managers, and employees will be missing from work - they may be sick, caring for others with the disease, or merely afraid to be out in public.

* Supply chains will be disrupted; the availability of many goods and services will become unpredictable - including prosaic things without which financial institutions might struggle: paper and toner, check printing companies, armored truck services, and all kinds of contractors, from outsourced providers to emergency plumbers.

* Some businesses won't be able to meet customer demands; and some companies will see demand collapse. Such disparities will be apparent in the financial sector and even within given financial enterprises where there may be crushing demands in some units while other functions may scale back dramatically.

* Health care will not be available to all who require it. There won't be enough doctors, nurses, hospital beds, ventilators, medications, or even gloves and masks.

* In some places, civil order may deteriorate.

Current Situation
The early warning signs are available now. The transmission from wild and domestic birds to humans is well-established from Southeast Asia westward to Turkey. So is human-to-human transmission (H2H) although some officials - most notably in Indonesia - deny it. Early on, the H2H transmission was associated only with people who were very close to one another for prolonged periods, e.g., a mother caring for a sick child. Recent reports of transmissions, not just of person-A giving it to person-B, but of person-B then transmitting it to person-C, are new cause of heightened concern. If those chains of H2H transmissions become more 'efficient' - that is if the virus changes in a way that allows it to spread easier - the flu will accelerate, and the world will face the likelihood of a global pandemic.
(Ironically, pigs may be pivotal to whether the avian flu explodes or not. Pigs are not as close to humans genetically as chimps and orangutans, but, as co-author Joe McMenamin says, 'They're close enough.' Thus, some of pigs' human-like genetics combined with their proximity to both chickens and people in Southeast Asia could make them readily available 'breeding factories' for a mutated virus that could spread more rapidly between people than the current strain.)

Now That You Know What You Know? Now What?
After the pandemic, your employees, your investors, the communities you serve, the regulators, the government, and the courts will judge your company. You will be compared to your peers, some of whom might have heeded the warnings and aggressively prepared.
Hindsight will, of course, be 20/20.
How does one prepare for what could be the greatest threat of our lifetime?

* First of all, take this threat seriously. Heed the guidance provided by the FSSCC. As the pandemic threat disappears from the front pages of contemporary news publications, many will breathe a collective sigh of relief and assume that we are now 'safe'. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Medical experts, scientists, and historians all tell us it is a matter of when, not if.

* Engage your organization at all levels. Education and knowledge are key. From your CEO to the bank teller, all should have some knowledge about the illness and ways to keep themselves and their families safe that will help mitigate fear and minimize illness. Engage your employees' children as the secret weapon in preparedness.

* Be decisive. Many of the policy issues and questions are difficult. Make a decision. You can always change the policy if the situation dictates it. Decisions made under pressure or duress are often ill-formed and fraught with issues. Get started and stay focused. ---"

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  • thinlina § yahoo.ca

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