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UK watchdog tells banks to improve remote working safeguards

LONDON (Reuters) - Banks and investment firms need more “creative solutions” to avoid misconduct as staff are set to work from home for longer due to the pandemic, Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority said on Thursday.

A skyline of the Canary Wharf financial district is seen as people enjoy the weather in London, Britain September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Britain told people to work from home if possible from Thursday as new cases of COVID-19 grow again, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the new restrictions could stay for up to six months.

Banking employees such as traders began working from home after a lockdown was introduced in March but had started returning to the office in recent weeks, where they can be more closely supervised by compliance staff.

Megan Butler, executive director for wholesale supervision at the FCA, said firms have broadly managed conduct and other risks from remote working “pretty well so far”.

“These are all difficult questions that get harder over time as it looks like no-one is going to be back in the office anytime soon,” she told the FCA’s annual meeting.

“Industry has coped pretty well so far and we are now going to be looking to them to find perhaps some more creative, resilient solutions to these issues than perhaps some of the ones that have worked so well so far.”

Most organisations are realising that lots of controls, oversight and cultural practices are built on pre-existing relationships, she said.

“The longer working from home goes on, the more they are at risk of breaking down. The more new people come in, who you don’t know, you don’t know whether to trust or not, it’s in those areas where I think there is still more to do,” Butler said.

She is also surveying firms that the FCA regulates to assess how close they are to collapsing due to the coronavirus.

The FCA has surveyed 14,000 firms, with another 10,000 being asked shortly. Hundreds of firms could be at risk, a number that was expected to grow, Butler said.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Alex Richardson