Financial services firms' pandemic contingency plans scrutinised

Financial services firms' pandemic contingency plans scrutinised

With the number of confirmed swine flu cases continuing to rise, a global benchmarking survey of financial institutions has revealed that, although over 70% of firms have a pandemic-specific business continuity programme in place, many may be dangerously out of date.

According to the World Health Organisation, as of today, 21 countries have officially reported 1124 cases of the H1N1 virus.

A RiskBusiness survey of 50 financial services firms around the world conducted in the last week reveals that 72% have a pandemic-specific business continuity and resilience programme in place.

However, 30% of those programmes have not been reviewed for at least 12 months, while 42% have not been tested for at least a year.

"This has to raise questions about how prepared financial institutions actually are," says Mike Finlay, MD, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, RiskBusiness.

While 75% of American respondents, and 64% of those questioned from Asia Pacific, have recently reviewed their pandemic plans, in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa, just 41% have looked at their programmes in the last year.

The survey also shows that less than half of participants have a formal internal threat level assessment mechanism in place. Of those that do, 75% have seen their mechanism triggered by the current potential swine flu pandemic.

Meanwhile, two thirds of participants say they have taken some form of action in response to the potential pandemic, ranging from initiating crisis committee meetings, increasing staff awareness, actively monitoring the situation and stock-piling vaccine and disinfectants, to travel bans.

Last week The FSA called on UK financial services firm to assess their contingency plans in light of the outbreak.

The watchdog is contacting the 'high impact' firms including infrastructure providers that it regulates to establish whether the influenza outbreak is affecting any aspects of their business.

In 2007 the FSA urged the sector to re-evaluate contingency strategies after a planning exercise found that increased staff absences could lead to branch closures and empty cash machines.

The mock exercise, which involved the UK's Tripartite authorities and ran for six weeks, found that absence rates at financial firms could top 60% in some business units in the event of a pandemic.

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